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One Simple Way to Stay in Joy

This post originated on Facebook as an encouragement for the holidays. I’m putting it here so it’s easier to find. We have challenging people in our lives year-round. Staying in joy!

You are an atmosphere changer. You change the quality of the air around you wherever you go.

But when you battle a heavy atmosphere, you may not always feel the change you are creating.

Sometimes the heaviness can feel more intense as you stand against it. It is not floating downstream, but swimming upstream that makes you feel the force of the current.

One time, I asked the Lord, “How do I keep my joy in the face of insults, anger, and competition? How do I show grace when I feel like arguing or defending myself? Or when I just feel like crying and giving up?”

I heard Him say, “Smile at me. Just look up, and smile at me. You love because of me, you’re doing this for me–smile at me!”

I want to be joyful and happy, but I seriously do not always feel like smiling at people. And they don’t always make it easy.

But just hearing Him say it made me smile, and I thought, “Ok, I’ll try it.”

There are studies about what happens when we smile, endorphins released, etc, but I had never thought about smiling at the Lord as a way to hold on to joy.

I had a dinner meeting with a group of people soon after that prayer. By the time we sat down to eat, I was already annoyed and battling insults and offense. I excused myself to ‘check on something,’ and as I stepped away, I gritted my teeth in a huge forced grin, and I looked up, and I started talking. “Here I am! I’m SMILING! See me SMILING?!? I’m smiling at You! I love You! I’m here for You! You make me smile! No one else has to make me smile because YOU MAKE ME SMILE!!!”

It was mad smiling, a little forced, but it made me laugh. It was truly a sacrifice of praise in that moment, but it was funny. It was something you would do with a best friend.

Just look up, and smile at me!

 

It reminded me that I wasn’t there alone. He was smiling back.

He gets how hard people can be. And He loves them too. And He and I, we are tag-teaming it. And He’s smiling and winking back at me, “You got this!!!”

I started sneaking off to get a dose of joy from my Father about every fifteen minutes. Just off to the side, wherever, and I would just look up and smile.

Truth? Those people didn’t act the best that day.

But, it’s actually a great memory for me. God shows Himself real when we let Him. I had a blast that day with my Daddy in Heaven, my best friend.

As we have parties and dinners and meetings and gatherings with people who may be hard to love, I pray we remember to SMILE at God! It plugs us in to the huge source of all joy.

And that joy, the  joy of the Lord, it makes us strong.

***

Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Neh 8:10b

 

Happy New Year, 2018!

2018! SO glad to see you! Where you been all my life?

Whew.

Don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy to see a new year.

Last year was kind of a grind. Lots of good moments. Beautiful breakthroughs. Precious memories. But. Dang. Tough too. Looking forward to this year.

A fresh start.

I’m not making resolutions this year. I’m not against them. It’s simply too much work right now after a year that showed me just how much my resolutions do not mean.

This was the year I was going to become a body builder.

Instead, I was broken over and over.

Right now, I’m just taking a few deep breaths.

So much stretches out before us in a new year. Plans, appointments, schedules, events. We fill in the little boxes on our calendars, and we make our agenda.

At the same time, there is so much to come. So much on the way to our lives that can’t be scribbled into a little white box.

Happy New Year, 2018!

 

We make our plans, and God makes His.

I pray for all your new years and your fresh starts and for all your calendars. I bless all the days to come. I stand with you for your hopes and dreams. I pray that all the things that need to go are overwhelmed in a fresh wave of God’s love for you. I pray for new visions, new relationships, healing, blessing, provision, protection. I pray for a new sense of order in every area of your life. I pray for all the old things that have expired to fall away, and for them to be replaced with His best for you in every way.

2018.

Here we go.

***

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come! 2 Cor 5:17

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

Don’t Try to be Something You’re Not. What Does that Even Mean?

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

I heard adults say this phrase over and over throughout my childhood.

But it’s hard not to try to be something you’re not when you’re not even  sure what it is that you are.

Identity is a subject that is talked about all the time. In cultural circles, it is one of the hottest topics of our day.

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

 

A week ago, I was getting ready for church.

I used to try to have all the little details of my life perfect, especially when my family was going somewhere in public. My clothes laid out, the kids’ clothes laid out, my hair perfect, their hair perfect. Everyone’s nails clipped and filed, mine perfectly manicured. Coordinating hair bows, loose strings cut, sweaters lint-rolled till they shined. You get it.

Our culture tells us “Don’t be something you’re not, but, oh by the way, be perfect!” All at the same time. And we buy into it.

Because, what will happen if we don’t?

I make choices daily about how I use my time. Having all the little details perfect back then meant that I spent a lot of time on those details, shining shoes, ironing, micromanaging the kids on little things.

And we buy into it.

 

I still care about those things. I’m not saying that I have become a slob. In fact, I’ve learned how to work smarter and not harder in a lot of areas. “Lord, help me work smarter, not harder!” One of my favorite prayers. Everyday wisdom. Jesus. Oh, how we need it.

I still care about those things, but I don’t care about them nearly as much as I used to because I no longer take my identity from them. 

“Identity” was a word that used to infuriate me when I first came back to the church. The women in the weekly Bible study I attended said “identity” to each other, their eyes meeting, knowing looks, head nodding. Identity.  Girl. Mmmhmm. Like it was a world in a word. And it is. But their extreme confidence in something I did not understand frustrated me to the point of rage.

Lord, help me work smarter, not harder.

 

Christianese is only helpful if we translate.

I wanted to know what they knew. I started to pray into this word. “Identity. Identity in Christ. What does that even mean, God? I want to know.”

I started to see what Jesus died for. What He wanted for us, for me. Redeemed. All the junk that I thought was a lost cause in me, all the areas of damage, all the areas of failure. He died so that I could have a different identity. I was not what I did. I was what He did. I was what He died for.

Christianese is only helpful if we translate.

 

It’s a walking out. What we know as identity will continue to grow as we grow closer to Him.

You become like the people you spend the most time with. I want to be more like Jesus. I’m spending more time with Him than I am on all the little details. And I’m spending more time trying to follow Him where I think He’s leading me. I do think He cares about the way we take care of ourselves, but those things can become idols. We can go overboard on anything if we don’t understand that identity comes from Him, His life, His death, His vision for us.

You become like the people you spend the most time with.

 

Our lives are not our own.

Instead of making lists that are set in stone and making everyone miserable as I try to check them off, I’m asking more questions. “How did You make me? What is on Your list for me today? What am I in You?” I’m able to walk out in more confidence when my to-do list comes from One so much bigger than I am, One who loves so well.

So. Back to getting ready for church.

I had gone to an event the night before and gotten home late. I didn’t take a lot of time to get ready for the morning before I went to bed. I know how I am when I don’t get enough sleep. Sleep is a priority. The details have to come later. I chose rest.

And, again in the morning, I chose rest. I slept as long as I could, and I got up with about 45 minutes to get ready.

What is on Your list for me today?

 

I knew  I wasn’t going to be super dressy, no time for that. So I picked up a pair of jeans. Fine. Jeans are fine.

Then, I started going through my drawers. I felt a little stressed and rushed. I picked up a sweater that is pretty, but I don’t love it on me. I started going through the drawer again, looking for something that I felt better about wearing.

And I heard that old phrase, “Don’t try to be something that you’re not.”

And I felt offended.

“What, Lord? I’m not doing that. I enjoy clothes. I enjoy dressing up and putting different pieces together. I’m not ‘trying too hard’ or ‘trying to be something I’m not!’ What are you talking about?”

I am learning that when I am offended by the Holy Spirit, I like to throw a little fit. And then when I get it out, He’s still there, waiting. And then I say, “Ok. Fine. I don’t understand because I don’t think that I am that/do that/think that. But whatever. Please. Show me what you mean.” That’s just how it goes. Every time.

And He does.

I felt that He was saying, “Just stop a minute. Be honest with yourself about what you are right now.”

Please. Show me what you mean.

 

And I got it.

What I am right now. What I was, right then.

I was someone who chose sleep over details that day. I was someone who chose blogging over ironing that week. I was someone who chose time with my kids over shining shoes and cutting threads. I was someone who chose to put a party together for my friends instead of dying my hair.

I do all those self care things–again, I don’t want to sound like those things don’t matter. They do matter. I’m not all holier than thou. Trust me. I like my hair done.  I like when my boots are tall and my makeup is on point. It’s just that, the reality of what I was in that moment was not someone who had made those things a priority. I wasn’t going to be able to fix it in 45 minutes. I wasn’t going to be able to make up for a week of putting other things first by tearing through a drawer trying to find the perfect sweater. I wasn’t going to be able to get ready for church and be on time by trying to be something I wasn’t.

I wasn’t going to be able to fix it in 45 minutes.

 

I felt relief. Permission to move forward. Perfect is just not going to happen today. Maybe never. I put on the less-than-perfect sweater. I didn’t even try to fix my hair. I brushed it and put on a hat. I grabbed the first jewelry I saw. I did simple makeup. I have no idea what the kids wore, but they got themselves ready for church on time with no prodding. To me, that’s success. Two teens and a tween in the van, on their own, on time, with no pushing from mom. Thank You, Lord.

It’s a journey, this identity thing. But one thing I know. I have permission to stop trying to be something I’m not. That means being honest in every moment about what I am. Rushed? Tired? Frustrated? Disappointed? I don’t have to wallow in it, but I don’t need to be in denial about it either, in the name of perfectionism, or optimism.

Or even in the name of faith.

I have permission to stop trying to be something I’m not. That means being honest in every moment about what I am.

 

Real faith doesn’t have to lie about circumstances. Real faith is honest about the mess and brings it to God and says, “Ok, God. It’s Your mess. Now what?”

And here’s the funny thing. I got so many compliments that morning on my jewelry, on my hat. I had to take a picture. Not because I think I look like a rock star, but because I know how I felt, and He showed me that He can still put us together in the middle of our mess, in the middle of our less-than-perfect. He can help us work smarter not harder. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

He will work it out.

And someone will just love your hat.

If they only knew.

Less than perfect. And I’m showing you my messy kitchen too. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Lol! <3

***

What are you, right now? What do you need to be honest about, and just let God have it? Frustrated? Disappointed? Rushed? Lord, we give it to you. Show us how to walk this out without trying to force something that is never going to happen. Show us how to stop trying to be something we are not and just rest in You.

Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor 5:17

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal 2:20

Don’t Go Nuts! Three Ways to Crack the Christmas Crazies.

Christmas Crazies, anyone?

If you caught the Christmas Crazies, you are not alone. Crazy is contagious this time of year.

At Christmas, we can spin between extremes of fantasy and regret, the fun of spending and the crush of debt, the disconnect of feeling alone in the middle of all the social pressure.

No matter what the season, or what the neighbors or the stores or the churches are doing, we have to live our days in a healthy way at a healthy pace that works for us. No manic-panic-sinking-Christmas-Titanic allowed at my house. No pushing for perfect and then screaming at the kids when it doesn’t work out. Been there, done that. Sheesh. Seriously. Those are not the Christmas memories that I’m trying to make.

Below are a few ways to keep the Christmas crazies at bay.

Three ways to Kill the Christmas Crazies

 

1) Fuel your spirit by spending time with God. Hello. This season is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  Rolling around in glitter is all good, but taking a deep breath and remembering why we are doing it is a key to seasonal peace. Christmas tree fell down? What would Jesus do? Feel sick about spending that much money on that overpriced plastic toy? What would Jesus do? People acting crazy? What would Jesus do?

He came for a reason beyond Christmas. He came to change us, to raise us from the dead in every way. Celebrate Christmas by letting Him change you even in the holiday chaos.

Now, maybe more than any other time of year, I have to focus on who God says I am and what His plans are for me. I’m busier than I’ve ever been–that means I don’t have time to not spend time with God. Spend five minutes every morning in worship, celebrating who God is. Out loud, say every good thing you can think of about God.

 What would Jesus do?

 

Spending time with God can be a challenge. But your thoughts about God and who He is to you are the source of your deep beliefs about what life can be and about yourself. You are made in His image. What you believe about who God is for you is a foundational belief.

The Lord is for me, I will not fear. Ps118:6a

This I know, that God is for me! Ps56:9

I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me. Ps13:6

2) Fuel your soul by thinking healthy thoughts. Thoughts are the source of behaviors, and thoughts come out of the deep core beliefs we hold in our hearts and our minds.  Lifestyle and behaviors are the outward expression of these thoughts and beliefs. To change a life, change the thoughts. To change the thoughts, we have to take them under conscious control and submit them to Jesus. He wants to change the deep wrong beliefs of our minds so that we can live an abundant life.

To change a life, change the thoughts.

 

To take thoughts captive, say “no,” and start speaking a better thought–out loud. I notice myself getting critical and prideful when I get stressed and out of His peace. That is my red flag. When I lose my joy and my ability to give people permission to take the time they need, when I lose my patience and my sense of humor, I need to do a mental inventory–quick–so that I don’t take it out on anyone. I can handle a pretty big to-do list, but even so, it can get heavy at times. I have to know myself well enough to know when to say “no,” when to take a rest, when to stop and refocus my thoughts.

Be prepared by having a verse ready when the crazy tries to come in. Keep a note in your pocket or stuck on your mirror or dashboard with a verse that you can easily see and read out loud.

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1Peter5:7

A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance. Jn10:10

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer29:11

Be prepared.

 

3) Fuel your body by choosing health. A healthy body supports a healthy mind. Comfort-eating and drinking or other self-medicating behaviors feel good in the moment, but we pay later. Poverty always focuses on the moment. Abundance focuses on investments.

Investments don’t always feel good right now–a lot of times, they hurt. Think about exercising or saving money instead of spending it. But in six months, life looks very different for the person living for the whim of now vs. the one investing for tomorrow.

Poverty focuses on the moment. Abundance focuses on investments.

 

So. Take care of your body! It’s your temple; it’s God’s temple. Get good sleep when you can. Drink water. Eat an apple every day, because, you know what they say. Eat well. Go for a walk. At the mall, while you are shopping, sit down and  take a break. Get a salad and water at the food court before you head over to Cinnabon. Hot tea is good, too. Please take care of you. You are part of this human team. We need you.

Christmas is not about working ourselves up to a case of Christmas Crazies. It’s about celebrating the Prince of Peace.

This year, I pray you have a peaceful, wonderful, joyful, beautiful, crazy-free Christmas.

***

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Cor 1:2

Lands Sakes. You Are Not Alone.

Lands sakes.

I don’t even know what that means. I just felt like saying it.

I’m a southerner. We talk like that. Especially when we don’t know what else to say.

I have found myself not knowing what to say a lot this year.

If you follow this blog, you know I had a bike wreck in the spring and hurt my leg. Bad. Sprained every ligament and tendon. Tore my ACL. Broke my leg.

Lands sakes.

When I finally got out of the wheelchair and off crutches, I started to see my way back to a normal life.

It was good.

But suddenly, just as I started walking again without a brace, I had gallbladder problems. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll just say this:  It was not good.

But I prayed, and I got insight on what to do. I drank half a lemon squeezed in warm water every day. Almost all symptoms gone the first time I tried it.

It was good.

Then. as soon as that passed, I got a wart.

In the middle of my face.

Not kidding.

Not good.

But, again, I prayed, and I got insight. Oregano oil, morning and night. It disappeared within a couple of weeks.

Good.

Ha.

Winning. I can fight these battles. I have God and natural medicine on my side. What can stop me? Whom shall I fear?

And then.

Yes.

Then.

In October, I took my kids to California on vacation, a trip we had  put off for months while I recovered from my knee injury.

We drove for three days. We had big plans to see good friends, the beach, Hollywood, Disneyland.

What can stop me? Whom shall I fear?

On our second day there, my son climbed up on an eight-foot  platform at a church we were visiting. You know. Like you do.

He yelled, “Look, Mom!”

I looked up, and I saw him. And I thought to myself, “Oh. What a terrible idea.”

But I was too far away to yell back. I hurried to get closer so I could tell him to get the heck off that thing.

I watched him edge further and further out on the platform. I watched the back of his shoe catch, ironically, on the safety rail.

And I watched him fall.

Bam. Hands first. On concrete.

Lands sakes.

It’s a thing that takes your breath away to see, your child suspended in air and  plummeting toward the earth.

He looked stunned as he lay there, so still, and my first prayer was that the kid would just raise up his head. Jesus. Let me see him raise his head.

And he did.

I still was too far away from him. But. Raising his head. That is good.

Then I saw him raise his right arm.

Oh, he’s fine. He’s ok.

But.

Wait.

You know how your arm is supposed to bend at certain specific places? Like joints?

He raised his arm, and even from where I was, I could see it bend in the wrong place. Not at the wrist, but about two inches behind it. Ew. Not good at all.

At the hospital later I asked him, “Son. What were you doing on that platform? When you said, ‘Look, Mom,’ what were you going to do?”

In a cloud of shock and morphine, he turned his head toward me, eyes glazed over as he pondered the question.

“When I said ‘Look, Mom’?”

“Look, Mom!”

“Yes. When you said, ‘Look, Mom.’ What were you going to do?”

“Oh, that. . . I was going to do a Batman trick.”

Oh, wonderful.

Well. Thank you, Batman.

We were in the emergency room all night, and doctors’ offices all over Southern California for the next three days. They thought he needed pins in his wrists. One was a clean break, but the other was shattered. He went into surgery to get them set, to get pins to hold his bones together.

My friend Chana and I sat in the waiting room and declared for an hour, “He will not need pins. No pins. No pins.”

He came out of surgery. No pins.

Even in the midst of it all, God’s hand.

It was good.

Then.

On the way home, traveling through Arizona, I got a phone call.

It was my sister. She kept my cat while I was in California. “I’m so, so sorry,” she said, “I hate to tell you this after everything that has happened. But. Hazel is hurt. She broke her leg. The vet is about to call you. So sorry.”

What and how.

A cat with a broken leg. I never even heard of a cat with a broken leg, and my dad is a veterinarian.

Lands sakes.

The vet called. “Hello, ma’am. Here are your cat’s treatment options. We can do surgery on your cat (thousands of dollars). We can do a splint on her leg. Or we can amputate.”

Oh my God.

I stood there. On my own just broken leg, watching my son try to handle his luggage with casts on both arms, imagining the two of us going home to a three-legged cat.

Thank you, Batman.

“Ma’am? Are you there?”

Not sure.

“Um. Uh. Yes. I’m here. What do you recommend?” I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to have this conversation. My poor kitty. My poor son. My leg. Lands sakes.

“Oh, well. It’s up to you, but I think the splint should be fine.”

Just a word to you vets. If you think the splint is fine, then let’s just go with that. Please. We simple folk never need to hear the word “amputate” never again. Just, no. Not ever.

 

 

We made it home.

Then.

Yes.

Then.

About three weeks after we got home, cat, casts, and all, we went to a fall celebration at a friend’s house. A lovely gathering of many families. Kids everywhere, a chili cook-off.

And a bouncy house.

Which my oldest daughter decided to race through at top speed. Backwards.

She took a flying leap, and her ankle bent all wonky, and she somehow landed on the top of her foot instead of the bottom.

It swelled up like a pregnant pig in about five minutes. And, yes. She is still on crutches.

Ummmm.

Lands sakes.

When it all started, I declared that this season would not break me. I do not bow to circumstance.

But circumstances didn’t quit. They just kept piling on.

And somewhere in there, I got ticked.

And I got distracted. Like a tightrope walker or a man of faith, I forgot to keep my eyes up. I looked down. No net. Big waves.

I forgot to keep my eyes up.

 

And I got resentful. I got depressed. And I sunk.

If I have any regrets from this year, even more than a difficult injury that I’m still dealing with, it is how little I laughed through it. How much I cried and felt sorry for myself.

I know we technically have a right to feel a certain way. But I just don’t want to. I want to be deeper than that.

And really. It is kind of funny. Leg, arms, cat, foot. Ridiculous. At some point you have to laugh.

Besides laughter, I have one huge takeaway from all of it.

I kept praying even though I didn’t feel like it. And when I prayed, I heard this, over and over:  You are not alone.

Whatever you go through, you don’t go through it alone.

Sometimes I am perplexed at the way God answers prayer. It’s clear that He’s present and providing for us. But I know what I want. I want my miracle. And I want it now.

And He could do it that way.

But I keep seeing Shadrach. Meshchach. And Abednego. Or as my kids call them, “Radio Shack, My Shack, and A Beanie Go.”

And the fourth man in the fire.

You are not alone.

I kept seeing this story play out in my mind.

You may know it. The king, Nebuchadnezzar, had built a giant golden idol and given the people these instructions:  When the statue is unveiled and you hear the music play, you must fall down and worship it, or be thrown into the fiery furnace.

So, the music played and the people fell down. Worshipipng, I guess. Or just passing time on the ground until the king was satisfied. Either way, there were a few men who did not comply. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were worshippers of the living God. They did not worship idols.

The king’s men reported them. And the king was furious. He was so angry, he told his fire-builders to make the furnace seven times hotter than before. The fire was so hot that the king’s henchmen died as they threw the men into the fire.

They did not worship idols.

But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not die. They did not burn.

The king looked at the furnace and saw the men walking around inside. And he saw another man, a fourth man, and he said, “he looks like a son of the Gods.”

The king called for the men to come out of the fire. They were not burned. Not a hair on their heads or a thread on their robes was harmed.

And they didnt even smell like smoke.

The king was amazed. He declared his faith in their God and commanded his kingdom to follow God. He promoted Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego to higher positions in his kingdom.

They didnt even smell like smoke.

 

It was a miracle, but it didn’t have to go down like that. God could have saved these guys another way.

He could have whispered a new direction, and Nebuchadnezzar could have spared the men the time in the fire.

But then, it would be a big nothing-story. It had to be just like this. It had to be dramatic. It had to be crazy. It had to be so obvious that it was God, or that day would have been like any other day. The king would have forgotten a still small voice, but who could forget four men walking around inside a fiery furnace?

You will walk through fire in this life. You will. It’s a promise. In this life, you will have trials.

You will walk through the fire, but you will not be burned, and you are not alone.

 

You will walk through the fire, but you will not be burned, and you are not alone.

 

And you never know who is watching, those people who will be encouraged and influenced and then influence others because of your faith, like Nebuchadnezzar watched the men in the fire, astounded, and then called for his people to worship the Living God. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s friend Daniel, who needed the memory of this day when he went into the lions’ den.

You never know who is watching you walk through fire and seeing that fourth man standing with you, who sees that you go through the same stuff they go through, but that you don’t go through it alone. Your fiery trials create a platform for The One who shines like a son of the gods, who shines brighter than the fire itself.

You never know who is watching you walk through fire and seeing that fourth man standing with you.

 

I know that I am not the only one who has had a crazy year. It’s been a year of trials for a lot of people.

Lands sakes. For others’ sakes. We can walk through this fire. We are  not alone.

***

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke! Dan 3:26b-27

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Josh 1:9

For You Are Powerful, Entrusted with Great Things.

This week, my little girl said some really mean words.

To me, to her brother. Really mean.

Then, my oldest did the same. Just harsh.

The beautiful thing about true love is the way it covers. Today, I can’t even remember what they said, just the way it felt. Hurt my heart. How I give them everything, and they give me these words in return.

But they do it because they know I love them. All the feelings they have, they are safe with me. They can ventilate. I will forgive. I will love, even still.

And I’ve done the same to them, I’m sure. We’ve all done it, said something awful that we kind of meant, but, not really, just because it felt twisted-good for one second to give voice to that thing inside us that would not rest.

And then, you see the other person’s face. And it’s not good anymore.

When my kids do things that hurt me, I don’t try to pretend that I’m invincible because I’m the mom. I tell them. To me, they need to know that they have that kind of power.

They need to know that they have that kind of power.

 

Hurt people hurt people. And so do people who think they are invisible, ignored, weak, victimized, powerless, unheard. They overcompensate with reactionary hugeness because they feel so small.

This is what I tell my kids. “You hurt me. Those words you said, that thing you did. You really hurt me. Like, I need a minute. I might cry. Because I love you so much, but also because you have power. You have the power to hurt me like that, to hurt your brother or your sister with your words. With your choices. You are not powerless. You can’t just say or do anything you want, because you are powerful. What kind of family do you want? You have the power to make this family the kind of family you want. Or to make it the kind of family you don’t. You are not weak just because you are young. You have power.”

You are not powerless.

 

They look at me. Then they usually tear up a little. Their hearts, convicted and softened. But it’s not a weakening, it’s an awakening. It’s the kind of cry that shows the birth of strength. I ask them if they remember someone hurting them, someone who had the same kind of power. Of course they do. They don’t want to do that to someone else. They just don’t always realize that they can.

I’m convinced that most people have no idea of the pain they cause in relationships. People have their own pain, and they act out of that place without thinking about how it hurts the other person involved. A lot of times, they don’t have all the information. They don’t know why someone did what they did, and their own insecurity leads them to feelings of rejection, which leads to accusation and judgement of the other. And then, they let them have it. What they deserve. Revenge.

Sigh.

It’s a mess, but I believe it’s most often born out of ignorance.

I’m not excusing it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have boundaries or never hold someone accountable. I just think that indulging feelings of weakness or victimhood or self-pity are much more dangerous than we realize.

Because. We are not victims. We are not weak. We are not pitiful.

We have power. We are powerful.

And when we wield our weapons recklessly because of our own pain? We become emotional terrorists, holding friends and family hostage with our words and our demands and our emotions.

We are powerful.

 

We have to deal with our junk. We have to deal with our pain.

We have to give up our feeling that we have a right to be offended.

Forgive quickly. Be slow to anger. Love well.

For we are powerful, and we have been entrusted with great things.

***

Today I’m praying that all of us would be healed of anything that keeps us from knowing our power and wielding it well. For we are warriors, priests, and kings. We must learn the weight and joy of power and true love. We must learn how to wear our crowns. And carry our swords.

Laughing. At the Future.

Every September, I ask for a word for the upcoming year.

I usually do it in the fall around the Jewish New Year, give or take a few days. I measure time a little fuzzy.

Last year, the word was “Healed.”

Incidentally, last year, I also tore my ACL, broke my leg, had problems with my gallbladder, and got a wart. On my face.

Needless to say, I felt a tiny bit confused.

As of this writing, I’m happy to announce that all those things are healed now, or at least well on their way to healing. So in that way, I guess the word held true.

Needless to say, I felt a tiny bit confused.

 

But. It was a long way around on a bumpy road.

This year, I considered not asking for a word. Maybe I just don’t want to know.

I held off for a month.

Lord, have mercy. Keep that word to yourself.

Physical pain and sickness and injury–these things mess with your mind. Pain is a head game. You win if you don’t let it get in your head, if you choose to live every moment like the world isn’t falling apart. It’s a kind of personal terrorism. You can’t give in, or the injury wins.

As my physical therapist says, “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

I should know this by now. A body goes through a lot in forty years.

Maybe the most disappointing thing about hurting my leg in the spring was the way I lost my joy. Fast. And it stayed gone. I could reach and grasp and drag it back, but it was a shallow thing. The tiniest upset caused me to lose it again.

I thought I had more joy. I needed to know this about myself.

The joy of the Lord is my strength. The joy of the Lord is my strength. The joy of the Lord is my strength.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

 

That’s my verse. My life’s motto. How could I let it go so easily through the greatest challenges?

I’ve listened to hours and hours of instruction on healing this year. I’ve talked to my friends and listened to their advice. I’ve had hours of prayer.

The thing that keeps emerging for me is joy.

I heard Bill Johnson share the many ways that healing comes. Of course, it can come through prayer, but he has seen so many people healed. Some have been healed just by walking in the door during worship. Others spontaneously felt heat or tingling. Others were healed sometime during a service but didn’t even know it until later when they realized they were doing an activity that they hadn’t been able to do for years, lifting a box or moving a table.

One story he shared stood out to me as confirmation of joy. A man was given four months to live. His doctor laid down the files and paperwork and said, “Do you want to know what I would do if I were you?”

The man said, “Yes, of course.”

The doctor said, “If I were you, if they told me I had four months to live? I would go home and rent every funny movie I could find. I would start to laugh, and I would not stop.”

So the man did. The next time they tested him, the disease had gone. No evidence of that disease anywhere. He was cured by laughing, cured by joy.

I would start to laugh, and I would not stop.

 

Sometimes we are so darn serious. It’s such a drag, and there is no breakthrough because our own heaviness holds us down in one tiny spot.

So many things happened this year. And I struggled to hold on to joy.

Every person I talk to starts to laugh as I tell them the crazy things that have happened. Because, for some reason, one terrible thing is not funny. It’s just terrible.

But a whole bunch of terrible things piled up on top of each other? Hilarious.

I think it’s the absurdity of it. Like, that’s not real, right? You have to be joking.

No. I’m not. But maybe life is.

I finally got up the courage to ask for my word for the year.

The Spirit had been holding his breath, waiting for me to ask. Almost even before I finished the prayer I heard my word.

“Laughter.”

Great. Sigh. I’m not going to ponder on what that means.

You have to be joking.

 

I keep thinking about the Proverbs 31 woman. How the scripture says, “She laughs, without fear of the future.”

I’ve always read that passage a certain way. Like, it’s a defiant laugh. Like, “Haha, Future! You can’t catch me!!!”

But lately, I think she’s actually sincerely laughing. Like she sees things that are funny. She’s cracking up, enjoying life. She is overwhelmed sometimes by all that she manages. That lady is no joke, but her life kind of sounds like one. Every person I know that manages that much stuff feels crazy at times. The ones that don’t quit are the ones who know how to laugh at the craziness. How to take it all in stride. How to make the messes and the unresolved areas and the failures, because she surely had all of that, how to make it all a joke.

I’m praying for more laughter. I’m watching videos and playing more. I already feel better. I’ll get to the future, but right now I’m laughing at the past, this year of “Are you kidding me, Lord?”

I think He is.

Lol.

Laughter. It’s the word for the year.

***

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. Prov 31:25

 

Suffering and Victory: Your Epic Story.

Sometimes, I don’t have anything nice to say.

Like, nothing. Can’t think of one nice thing.

So I don’t say anything at all.

Yes, Grandma, I was listening.

A month ago, I wrote a blog post. I’ve been quiet since then for various reasons. I’ll write more about it when I can laugh about it. One thing I know about myself, is that when I’m down, I’m DOWN. No need to take you all down with me.

Seems like one thing after another some days, doesn’t it?

 

I have an un-prayer I pray when I don’t know what the heck is going on. I say, “Ummmm, ok God, I know I’m not supposed to ask ‘why. . . .'”

And then I kind of wait a minute and see if anything comes through. “I’ll try not to ask ‘why,’ but if You want to tell me anything, Jesus, I’m all ears.”

I don’t usually get a straight answer to that question.

What I do get is more of an impression, an invitation to trust. To wait and see. To watch it play out. To believe that there is more going on than meets the eye.

It’s nice and all but easier said than done.

And I don’t fully see it yet, although I do see my heart growing stronger in the meantime.

But here’s what I do know.

People connect with your suffering before they connect with your victory.

 

Epic stories are epic, not because of the finish line or the end of the journey, but because of what the hero had to go through to get there.

What the hero had to go through to get there.

That is what makes the story epic.

You are a part of an epic tale. Your suffering speaks. Your life tells a story.

Wait and see. It’s not over yet.

And people are watching. Like a movie, you have an audience, and they are waiting to see what you do next.

And just like a movie, there will always be some who don’t support you, no matter what. But most of them are rooting for you. Because your suffering makes them know that they are not alone in theirs. And when you have victory, they know they can have it too.

Your suffering is not wasted. Victory is around the corner. Hold on. Wait and see.

***

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. Rom 8:28

Note:  My email subscription service has not been working correctly since sometime in the spring. I’ve done a couple of things to try to fix it, but nothing has worked so far. I think I know what the problem is now, and will hopefully have it fixed in the next couple of weeks. Thanks so much for subscribing, and thank you for your patience! <3

It’s Yours. Go and Take It! How to Let Struggle Work in Your Favor.

Finding joy. Finding strength.

It’s not easy. Not for any of us.

And so often, those who do this hard work of fighting for life and fighting for power are given what is possibly the most condescending response ever. “It’s easy for you. It’s harder for me than it is for you. You have something I don’t have. You have the gift of joy.”

But.

Here’s the thing.

Joy is not a gift.

Galatians 5.

Joy is a fruit.

That means it is something that must be cultivated.

Fruit comes after ownership–owning our territory, and owning our part in the growing. It comes after plotting, tilling, planting, and much care.

Joy is not a gift of the Spirit, nor is it a gift of circumstance. Some of the most emotionally challenged people that I know have had it the “easiest” in terms of visible circumstances.

Joy is not a gift.

 

Those who have not known ease can assume that if they only had a different circumstance, they would also have a different level of joy.

But happiness studies from around the world show that this simply is not true.

Joy and circumstance are not related to the degree that people assume that they are.

Joy is not a gift, but sometimes struggle is.

Struggle works in our favor when we realize that it leads us in to our identity. Struggle and work make us feel our own power when we engage wholeheartedly and watch the fruit come.

Good parents see struggle as part of health.

 

Infants struggle to be born, and then they wriggle and struggle to hold up their own heads.

Babies struggle to crawl. Toddlers struggle to walk, falling down a million times and never giving up.

Good parents see this struggle as part of health. Like weight-lifting or training for a marathon, it’s hard in the moment, but no one gets stronger being carried everywhere.

In fact, I recently heard of a mother who was so protective of her child, never wanting to see him struggle, that she did carry him everywhere for almost two years. The child could not walk. He never had a chance to struggle and learn. There was no normal, healthy development in his legs. Child services came in to insist that the child be allowed to struggle to gain strength.

Very often, the thing that looks like struggle is the thing that builds your strength.

And even in Eden, there was work to be done.

There is a consciousness to joy. A conscious choice for cultivation. This consciousness exists with all the fruits of the spirit.

Even in Eden, there was work to be done.

 

There is nothing easier than criticizing a joyful, loving person. Nothing easier than tearing down a soft target. And there is something about a joyful person that can make an angry person angrier and meaner, especially if he is determined to stay in his state of mind.

It is not only that the joyful are a soft target.

A joyful person is a challenge.

The mere presence of a well-adjusted person is an inherent challenge to those who don’t have it figured out yet. And when that same well-adjusted person is also flourishing and strong, the challenge is even louder. And those who have not fought in the same way can sometimes assume the way was easy for those who have already won their battles.

A joyful person is a challenge.

 

I have fought this temptation too. The temptation to see someone who is living well and bearing good fruit as someone who just had it easy and has no real clue about life.

But then, after years of struggle, I started to wonder if, maybe, those people knew something I didn’t.

It can feel good in a twisted way to fall into self pity, to sit and tell myself how hard my life is. To vindicate the waves of emotion that, at forty-two years old, I still have not learned to entirely control.

“I deserve it! I want chocolate! I want to complain! I want to watch myself cry in the mirror! I want to quit!”

Self-pity gives us all the excuses we need to not try harder, to not go out and do the hard work of pursuing our destiny. It makes us feel exempt from the struggle for excellence in our own minds, where the battle is the thickest. We can redefine “excellence” in our pain, saying, “Well, at least I’m still here, well at least I’m this, at least I’m not that.”

At least.

But I don’t want “at least.” I want “at most.”

I want the best there is.

And I know you do too.

And God wants the best for us. He already has it planned out.

Very often, the thing that looks like struggle is the thing that builds your strength.

 

When the Israelites were “given” their inheritance from God, He also told them to GO AND TAKE IT.

When Ruth went to Boaz for charity, it was there, but she still had to work for it. She still had to GO AND TAKE IT.

When Jesus healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda, He told the man, “Get up. Take up your mat, and walk.” The man had to take responsibility for himself and TAKE his healing. He had a choice.

GO AND TAKE IT

 

It’s time for us to GO AND TAKE the inheritance, the blessings, the joy, the healing that God wants to pour out in our lives. God does many, many things by grace, just giving us blessings because He loves us. But even with a gift, we have to stretch out our own hands to receive.

But other times, like a good father who wants to see his child grow healthy, He stands out a little way from us, holding out His arms and saying, “Come on! Come on! Come on! I know you can do it!”

The way to let struggle work in our favor, and incidentally, one way to cultivate joy, is to count the struggle as joy. 

Don’t know how to do that? Me either, sometimes. Ask God to help you reframe it. And you will see Him standing before you with arms outstretched, cheering you on.

***

Reckon it nothing but joy, my brethren, whenever you find yourselves hedged in by various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith leads to power of endurance. Jas 1:2-3

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” John 5:8

So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. Ruth 2:23ab

See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land. Deut 1:8a

What have you been putting off because of self-pity or fear? What do you need to GO AND TAKE today? What is one thing you can do to move forward in claiming your inheritance?

Father, thank You that You allow us the good kind of struggle that brings strength in us! Thank You that You stand before us with Your arms out, saying, “Come on! Come on! Come on! You can do it! Come to me! I’ve got you!” Thank You that You know how much we can be, and You believe in us! Thank You that You never leave us or forsake us, and You are our greatest Helper, our greatest cheering section, our greatest encourager!

I pray for anyone reading this to hear Your voice in greater measure today and every day, cheering them on to claim their inheritance! To hear You say in their hearts–there it is! That thing I have for you! I’m shining a light on it, I’m cheering you on! Now! GO AND TAKE IT!

Thank You for helping us and planning out our best lives and making a way for us to find what You have! In Jesus’ name, we GO! Amen!

Pitiful or Powerful? One More Question to Ask After You Choose.

You can’t be pitiful and powerful.

You have to choose.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little bit about my choice and my journey from pitiful to. . . well, at least more powerful than before.

But what happens after we choose?

We start to live it. We wrangle and wrestle with old things. We learn what we need to let go, what still fits. How to live in our choice.

How to own it.

And then, we have to ask, how do we love each other well, whatever we choose? When we choose to be powerful? When we choose to be pitiful?

A few weeks ago, I sat with a friend. I listened and felt my soul shrinking back and dragging down as the same dark narrative was repeated over and over and over. This thought occurred to me:  She is hypnotized by negativity. She didn’t even hear herself. She had no idea that she was telling me the same story, again and again and again, a story that could easily be spun a different way.

And years ago, I remember listening to people older and wiser than I was, but I couldn’t imagine what made them think they knew so much. They were only people, like me. Sometimes I would leave those conversations filled with rage and resentment, missing so much if the wisdom that I could have gleaned from their sharing.

Emotion comes in and wraps itself around us if we let it. We can’t see ourselves, and we can’t hear ourselves, if we allow emotion to be a block to what we really want.

When I want to be powerful, but the person next to me wants to be pitiful, how do I show compassion and patience? How do I sit with their negativity and repeated sob stories without sacrificing my own hard-won positive focus?

When I want to be pitiful, but I sit next to someone who has found their power, how do I really love and learn from them when my natural response is to roll my eyes and stick out my tongue and say, “YEAH, RIGHT!  WELL, GOOD FOR YOU! ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW WHAT–I THINK YOU ARE FULL OF IT!!!”

I’m not sure that we have learned this yet as a culture.

How do we love each other well?

 

How do we know when to grieve? There is a scripture that says to mourn with those who mourn, but what if all they ever do is mourn? Even scripture puts a limit on mourning–God gives His people thirty days to devote to grief–even for the most tragic things. And then it’s time to put down the sackcloth and ashes and begin fighting our way back in to life.

Finding balance.

Letting ourselves rest. Being ok with where we are in our process and where others are in theirs, even if we know we are still kind of pitiful sometimes. Seeking our power and deciding not to be quitters. Finding our power and looking at someone else who hasn’t yet, learning how to encourage them forward without trying to push them where they aren’t ready to go.

It’s not easy for any of us.

Heidi Baker talks about asking God, “What does love look like in this situation right now?”

What does love look like in this situation right now?

 

As you grow in the powerful, as you face down the pitiful, if you struggle with knowing what love looks like in any moment, if you feel those tendrils of impatience or those talons of resentment trying to drag you down, just take a deep breath, and ask silently, “God, what does love look like, with this person, right now?”

He will show you.

***

Father, we are on a journey to fearless, a journey to powerful. We ask in every moment, that You would show us what love looks like. Eyes to see Your answer, ears to hear Your guidance, hearts that understand what You are asking us to do, and the grace to obey.

We want to grow in our own strength and still love well, wherever we are in our process. You are Love. You live inside us. We trust You to guide us and make Yourself known, even in the most challenging relationships, in the most challenging moments. We give every loved one, every family member, every stranger, every co-worker, every neighbor, every friend, every ex-friend, every attacker. Every person who has ever touched our lives. We forgive those who have trespassed against us. We forgive ourselves for our own trespasses, and we give others permission to forgive us. We look to You to take us higher within ourselves and in every relationship. We look for You to show us what love looks like in every moment. In Jesus, Amen.