Heart Stuff

  • Clearing the Clutter

    Ah, January! The long-awaited, longest month of the year, famous for inspiring millions to make resolutions of forward progress and to clear out the old to make room for the new.

    Also (in case you hadn’t noticed) we have officially entered 2021! Although it has already swooped in with some pretty sticky messes, we will, and must, keep pressing onward with our sights set on Jesus. Always.

    All things considered though, I think we can all appreciate the beginning of a new year and the opportunity for a fresh start. Personally, I find the beginning of each new year to be an especially helpful motivator to declutter my home. Anyone else relate? Webster’s dictionary describes clutter this way: 1) n. a crowded or confused mass or collection; 2) adj. to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness.

    I don’t know about you, but I do not like clutter impeding my movements or reducing my effectiveness. I often don’t even know where the clutter in my house comes from, but oh boy, does it come! I also know that once it lands here it immediately becomes my responsibility to figure out what on earth to do with it. Whether the clutter needs to be thrown out or “re-homed,” it generally falls to me to make those decisions around our home and to remove the excess of things no longer serving myself and my family.

    It can take a lot of time and energy to clear out our physical clutter, but in the end, it is always hugely rewarding. Clearing out spaces in our homes that help us to be more efficient and effective in our daily lives is totally worth the effort!

    But there’s more than just one type of clutter that comes at us and can impede our lives. The type of clutter I want to talk about isn’t any of the things I just listed. In fact, it’s not anything you can hold in your hands at all: it’s what I call emotional clutter.

    I’m going to guess that all or most of us are familiar with the idea of emotional baggage. This is a term I’ve heard tossed around for years, generally in relation to unresolved pain and memories from the past which we can often end up hauling around with us (not by choice) that can interfere and weigh us down from living the beautiful life we were born to live.

    When severe enough, emotional baggage can hold people hostage from living any life at all! I won’t dive too deeply into that level of emotional baggage here, but I hope you know that if you find yourself needing to unpack a significant amount of baggage, this ministry would love to point you toward safe and appropriate resources.

    What I do want to address here is the smaller, often less noticeable collected moments of emotionally negative “clutter.”

    Emotional clutter can show up in a variety of shapes and sizes and can genuinely impede our effectiveness on a daily basis. It could look like a lot of things: like being in a nasty funk all day after getting stuck in traffic that morning; not being present with our family because we’re actively worrying about things we can’t control; it might look like not trusting an authority or other important figure in our life because we’re focusing on a time when someone else close to us betrayed our trust in a hurtful way; it could look like finding someone to blame for that thing that went wrong at work and gossiping about that person behind their back, or criticizing our partner for the one thing they forgot that day instead of thanking them for the things they did well.

    We can have all types of clutter gathering dust in our hearts at any given time, muddying the waters of our mind and spirit. If we’re not making time for self-reflection and introspection on a regular basis, we can often remain unaware of how much that clutter is impeding our movement in the world and reducing our effectiveness. Once that clutter begins to gather dust for long enough, it attracts more clutter, and more, and before we know it we are packing yet another suitcase of “baggage.”

    In order for this not to happen, it’s crucial that we begin to learn sustainable ways of partnering with God to clear the clutter from our hearts and minds. It might take some time and energy but trust me – just like cleaning out that closet, it’s going to be so worth it!

    Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

    Romans 12:2

    When we examine our thoughts and take stock of our emotional clutter, it allows God to help us discern what His perfect will is for us. We are able to see ourselves, the people around us and our circumstances from His eternal perspective, instead of our limited view.

    I encourage you to take some time this week to pray and ask God what kinds of emotional clutter might be collecting in your own heart. What types of emotions are weighing on you right now? Is there a conflict happening with someone in your life? Are you struggling to make a difficult decision but you don’t want to disappoint people?

    Try to name the first things that God brings to your mind without judging yourself or others for it. Ask God to help you sit with some of the clutter that He shows you and take a deep breath. These things aren’t too hard for God to handle! He understands, and He loves you, and He wants to carry your burdens for you. He’s that good!

    Remember that your clutter doesn’t define you, but it can sometimes impede your movements and reduce your effectiveness, just like physical clutter. It can limit our perspective and wisdom to what’s right in front of us, instead of being able to hear God’s gentle guidance and see His perfect provision. When we allow emotional clutter to accumulate, we can miss out on the fullness of all of the blessing and goodness God has for us.

    2020 might not have been my favorite year, but it taught me (along with a host of other lessons) that no matter what craziness life throws my way, my hope does not and cannot rely on the circumstances of this world. Instead, I am compelled to reaffirm my faith and trust in the One who never changes, who never becomes weak or weary – the One who hung the stars in the sky and causes the seasons to change – the One who put you and me on this earth for such a time as this. He is the solid rock in shifting sand on which we would do well to build our house. (Matt. 7:24)

    To an uncluttered New Year in Christ!

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  • Beholding the Savior

    Often when we think of the Christmas story, we think of the early days–the angel appearing to Mary, her miraculous pregnancy, Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, Mary giving birth to Jesus in a manger. Every detail of the story is incredible and inspires awe and wonder. 

    But Jesus continued to grow, and even though Mary knew before he was born that he was Immanuel, God with us, Jesus was also her little boy. She tended to his scraped knees when he fell down, and made him soup when he wasn’t feeling well. As he grew into a man, and his ministry began, Mary was no doubt filled with a sense of wonder at hearing about him healing the lame, the sick, and the blind. Mary must have marveled at how God was working in their midst through Jesus. As a mom, I can’t help but think she would have been filled with nostalgia as she remembered cradling Jesus as a baby, and overwhelmed with awe as she watched him turn water into wine and raise Lazarus from the dead. 

    I wonder when the moment was that she began to see Jesus, and all the incredible gifts He had through the Father, and realized that she was beholding the Savior. Was it a certain miracle that He performed that made her stop and recognize God in flesh standing before her? Was it something He said or a Holy Spirit feeling that would prompt her to see Jesus as Lord and worship? 

    What will that moment look like for you, when God’s love breaks through the noise of our everyday hustle and bustle and you behold the Savior in your midst? 

    Perhaps it will be in the soft glow of the Christmas lights as you soak in God’s peace and feel His presence wrapped around you like a warm blanket. Maybe it will be in the face of your child as you pray over them, or in the lyric of your favorite Christmas carol.  It could be in the kind word from a friend or loved one who sees you when you feel invisible and forgotten. Maybe you’ll see Him holding you up in a storm you are currently facing. Whatever it is, in every moment, Jesus is with us, miraculously breaking through the noise and chaos of our world to be our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father and Strong God. 

    Advent is a season where we wait, expectantly for Jesus to come. We celebrate what God has done in the past, marvel at what He is doing now and wonder at what He will do in the future, thankful for His hand of love and provision at every turn. Look for Him in the details, see Him guiding your steps and holding your heart. He promises He will never leave us, that He is always with us. This advent season, may we cease our constant striving, be still and behold the Savior.

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  • Peace of Christ

    Peace.

    This evening after work, my husband discovered a leak in the very old hot water tank of our newly purchased home. So instead of enjoying the relaxing evening we’d planned, curling up on the couch with our kids and the latest Mandalorian episode, we raced the clock to pull up wet carpet and subfloor, buy and install a new copper pipe, cook supper, and get everyone fed before bedtime … all while trying to stay calm and be nice to each other.

    It almost seems laughable how frenzied we all became so quickly. It became increasingly difficult to give each other grace and margin for our disagreements and different priorities throughout the evening.

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

    John 14:27 (ESV)

    I don’t know about you, but this promise from Jesus to his disciples sounds almost too good to be true. Especially right now. I’ve been a Jesus-follower for a number of years now, and I’ve heard this particular passage more times than I can count. But I have to be honest: after a year like 2020 I feel as if I’m reading these words for the first time. How can Jesus make such bold statements? Is His peace really so accessible, even today? How can we keep our hearts from being troubled and afraid of the pain and chaos around us? How do we gain access to God’s incredible gift of peace?

    Let’s look a bit further down in John 16 where Jesus is once again speaking to His disciples about peace:

    Jesus asked [His disciples], ‘Do you finally believe? But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

    John 16:31-33 (ESV)

    This one hits hard. Jesus is describing His upcoming betrayal and abandonment from the very people he’s sitting next to – His best friends. I cannot imagine a worse scenario to foresee. If anyone had foreseen the tragedies of 2020, would they have been able to handle the grief and the apprehension? Would they have been able to hold the tension of gracious acceptance and brave fortitude? Jesus saw the future as God revealed it to him and He spoke of supernatural peace, even in the darkness of those events. What mattered most was not actually the events themselves, but more so Who was still present and offering peace in the midst of tragedy.

    Jesus confirmed over and over again throughout the Bible that life on earth will be hard, with trials and sorrows guaranteed to come our way. But the trials and the sorrows aren’t the end of the story because God is present through it all, and His promises stand firm.

    Let us open our hands this Advent season, to give Jesus our pain and sorrow and receive His supernatural gift of peace.

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  • Gratitude During the Holidays

    I came across an interesting article recently that stated, “you have permission to not be thankful this Thanksgiving.” The author went on to share how he was going to choose a humbug mindset this holiday because 2020 has been a rollercoaster of emotions and challenges. To be honest, I get it, this holiday season is filled with tough choices and changes for families, but gratitude and thankfulness are to be expressed not just when things are going smoothly. Rather they are an attitude to be displayed both in the trials and blessings of life.

    Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (ESV) I italicized the word “in” for a reason, because I think we often replace it with the word “for” which changes how we see the practice of gratitude. God isn’t asking you to be grateful for your family not being able to gather this Thanksgiving. He is not asking you to be grateful for the pandemic that has caused loss, hardships and hurts. God is asking us to find the things to be grateful for in these challenging times. I can be grateful for technology like Zoom that has allowed me to stay connected to loved ones. I can be grateful to have a job that allows me to work remotely. I can be grateful because of the daily walks I get to take with my housemate. I can be grateful for an amazing gluten-free pizza that gets delivered to my house way more often than I care to admit. I can be grateful that even though my travel plans have changed throughout the year, I have found different ways to refuel the wanderer in me. I can be grateful that I got to still do my digital detox weekend at the coast which helped to renew my spirit. I can be grateful for all the amazing people in my life who are still here, even if we are socially distanced or having to connect differently. 

    Practicing gratitude isn’t about forced positivity and it doesn’t mean that you ignore all the challenges you are facing. You most certainly can take time to grieve, but my prayer for you is that you don’t stay stuck there. God can empower you to be an overcomer, someone who is resilient and can find the good even in the hard times. Every time I visit my colleagues and the students and families who are part of the Africa New Life community in Rwanda, I am reminded that gratitude can be found whether we have plenty or little.  For many Rwandans they are not just being challenged by the pandemic, but they have been dealing with poverty and loss from a genocide that took place in their nation over twenty-five years ago. And yet they find ways daily to rejoice and to share their joy and hope with those who come to visit, or through the letters our students send to sponsors here in the United States. That gratitude is not based on their circumstances, but based on their faith that God’s promises are true even if we can’t see the evidence of that in our lives currently.

    When we talk about practicing gratitude, a lot of people immediately think of doing a gratitude journal, which I absolutely love and highly recommend doing, but here are some other ways to not only think about what you are grateful for, but to express your gratitude this holiday season. 

    1. Make a gratitude jar: Find a mason jar as big or small as you want. Then take some construction paper and cut it into slips of paper. Put a marker or pen and the pieces of paper next to the gratitude jar then each day leading up to the holidays pause every time you walk by the jar and jot down something you are grateful for and fold the slip of paper and place it in the jar. On whichever holiday you choose, Thanksgiving or Christmas, plan “gratitude breaks” where you go to the jar and pull out a slip of paper and read out loud what you have to be grateful for.  
    2. Send gratitude cards: If you are sad about not getting to see a family member or friend this holiday season, create a gratitude card for that person and send it to them for a sweet surprise in the mail. Inside the card you could write something as simple as “I am thinking of you.” Or you could write a personalized note filling in the blank, “Because of you….” and share what they have done in your life that you are grateful for. 
    3. Make “thank” calls instead of prank calls: Sit down on the days leading up to the holidays and make a list of people who have done something nice for you lately or in the past. Then set aside time on or around the holiday to call and say thanks. 
    4. Send virtual care packages: You might not be able to get together in person, but you can have fun and send a bunch of photos or silly video clips that will spark a smile and let them know that you are grateful for them this holiday season. 
    5. Create gratitude rocks: My niece and I did this a few years back where we painted rocks with messages that inspire gratitude. Then you can take a walk and set the rocks in special places to surprise other walkers/hikers. 

    This holiday season, what if you focused less on who you are not with, and what you are not doing and more about who you are with and what you are doing? What if you focused on what you have, rather than what you may be missing out on? What thanks can you give in the middle of our hard circumstances? Gratitude amplifies positive emotions and increases your resilience in facing future challenges. Yes, this pandemic holiday season may have its challenges, but I still believe we can put the “thanks” in Thanksgiving and choose to give ourselves permission to create a gratitude habit that shines God’s light and hope even during the dark times. Who knows? Your thankful attitude may just be what someone else is thanking God for this year. 

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  • Be Still and Know

    1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our fortress. 8 Come and see what the Lord has done,  the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our fortress.

    Psalm 46:1-11

    One of my favorite verses that has brought me comfort and peace over the years is Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God”. It has been a gentle reminder of God’s sovereignty, love and provision, especially in times of stress and difficulty.

    Today, however, I read the whole Psalm instead of just my favorite verse, and noticed some things I hadn’t noticed before. My favorite verse that brings me so much peace is surrounded in the Psalm by chaos and destruction. In verse 2 and 3, Scripture paints a picture of a world in tumult and crisis—mountains falling down, and oceans roaring and foaming. In verse 6 it speaks of nations in uproar and kingdoms falling. I couldn’t help but reminded somewhat of the state of the world today.  Honestly, there are days I don’t think I’d be the least bit surprised to hear that a mountain had fallen into the sea or that some other new calamity had befallen us. It is 2020 after all.

    But all of this chaos described in Psalm 46 is also contrasted with the true and steady character of God. He is described in verse 1 as an “ever present help” in trouble, our refuge, our safe place. In verse 7, we are reminded that God is with us. And in verses 8-9 we see that God will bring about an end to fighting and strife and make wars cease.

    The truth is, God is far bigger and more powerful than any worst case scenario we can imagine, and I can imagine a lot! Even when the world seems out of control, God is always in control, so there’s no reason to be afraid. This amazing truth was exactly what my heart needed to remember.

    In verse 10, God is giving a gentle but powerful command to us to “be still” and know that He is God. He tells our frantic hearts to cease striving, with the same loving authority that He commands the winds and the waves. He calls us to surrender, cease striving and rest assured with absolute certainty, that He is God.

    Dear friend, as turmoil and chaos seem to swirl around you, run to God, our refuge and strength. He is mighty and immovable, and with Him we are safe and secure. He is here and He is in control. We don’t have to fear. In Him we are more immovable than the mountains themselves. Lean back into His loving and capable arms, and rest assured. Breathe deep of His presence and find peace.

    Almighty God and Father, 

    Today our world feels chaotic and overwhelming. Our hearts are weary and we need to find refuge and rest under your wing. Be our help and present hope. Help us to cease striving and fighting and remember that you are greater than anything we will face in this world. You alone are strong enough to hold us steady when the wind threatens to blow us over. Help us to lean into your loving arms and feel the power of your presence and protection. Thank you that we can give you our worries and burdens and you exchange them for peace. Hold close each person praying this prayer now. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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  • Reversing Invisibility

    Not long after I moved back to my hometown, I decided to dive right into church participation by volunteering at a women’s event. I was so excited to reconnect with old friends and catch up with everyone. I imagined taking trips down memory lane and catching up on current life seasons.

    To be honest, I was also anticipating the idea that I had been missed–that my church peers from high school and college would be just as thrilled to see me as I would be to see them. I arrived a bit early to help set up and stand at my greeting post, with a prepared smile and hopeful aspirations, but as each woman entered the building, I was struck with the reality that I did not know these ladies. I did not go to youth group with any of them. They weren’t present at any of my college mission trips or volunteer projects. No, these women were new to me and I was new to them. The friends I thought I would reconnect with had also moved away: some for marriage or work or school. I was the stranger and I felt invisible. It wasn’t the first time I felt out of place in a familiar space. I wonder if you’ve ever experienced similar atmospheres at work or at family functions or even at church.

    Sometimes, we each can find ourselves in places where we feel out of place. It’s hard to navigate unfamiliar territories while simultaneously dealing with secret uncertainties in our thoughts and feelings. But this is a normal occurrence from time to time. No matter how secure you are, confidence prefers to be comfortable. When we find ourselves in a situation that is new and uncomfortable, our tendency may be to withdraw and not take the risk to reach out.

    As I took a seat at a table that was already occupied by women who seemed to be close friends, I flashed a shy smile and sat in silence. The group of women were kind, but I wasn’t sure if I would fit in with them and anxious thoughts began to cloud my mind. What if I’m older or younger than they are? What if they are all single? What if none of them have children? Do we have anything in common? Maybe one of them will just say something to me so that I won’t have to risk saying something they can’t relate to.

    As I felt myself get worked up over a scenario that wasn’t reality, I realized I had a choice to make: I could sit there and hope to be noticed, I could engage myself in something else that wouldn’t require me to take a risk to be vulnerable, or I could use maturity that comes from believing that Jesus makes me valuable and that I had valuable things to contribute at the table.

    And though it is a vulnerable thing to extend ourselves when we feel out of our comfort zone, that is the call of spreading the love of Jesus – not just amongst our comfortable places, spaces and faces, but to whomever the Lord puts in our path.

    Though our human nature tends to size people up, it’s more productive to lovingly extend who we are rather than assume who others are or aren’t. Celebration- not comparisons- are the key to reversing invisibility. We cannot celebrate others if we choose to withdraw from them. Each of us can be at fault for holding ourselves back out of intimidation or fear, but concealing who we are isn’t honest and it will hold us back from running on mission to share the love of Jesus.

    Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act”

    Proverbs 3:27

    Sometimes, we are hesitant to extend ourselves even when the opportunity is made obvious. The vulnerability it requires can somehow seem to cost more to lose than to gain. Sometimes, reaching out is scary because we don’t know if the invitation is mutual, but I am honestly learning that once we set our sails open to the truth that God’s love and value over us is charting our course, the winds of uncertainty don’t seem so scary.

    I wish I could say that I mustered up the courage to complement one of the girls at the table or to ask about their work day or their family or what college they went to, or to simply complement them in order to open up the opportunity to engage, but I didn’t.

    I allowed the confidence of their conversation to make me feel doubtful. But, God is good, isn’t He? Even when we cower in doubt, His Holy Spirit has a way of lining up our lives through situations He has orchestrated.

    Though I was hesitant, my friend Jetta was not. She joined the table, plopped down right beside me, and began to chat away as if I had been in her life for years and years. It was her willingness to extend herself that helped connect me to so many other sweet ladies who also felt uncertain about extending themselves. It only takes one person who is willing to reach out in the confidence of Christ and in mission to be loving and vulnerable. I’m so glad Jetta was that friend for me and since then, I have grown in becoming that friend for others: that friend who doesn’t see a stranger, but rather sees a sister.

    I want to encourage us all to push past the doubt that uncertainty tries to cloud around our opportunities to be loving, vulnerable and engaging. If you have a shy personality the way I do, understand that when you withhold yourself, you are withholding the goodness of God that His love has placed within you. We may not all be comfortable standing on a stage or telling public jokes or being the center of attention, but that’s not what extending ourselves is about. It’s not about attention to ourselves, it’s about extending the love of Jesus that the Holy Spirit will use to give glory to Himself and edification to His church.

    If there is an upcoming opportunity where you may be in contact with someone you don’t know very well, I hope you will consider extending yourself in Christ’s love. You have valuable things to share with others, but they’ll never benefit if you keep yourself to yourself!

    Trust the Lord as He aligns your life with other precious sisters in Christ. Take every opportunity to use your time, your gifts, and your life to share Jesus with those He’s placed around you (Ephesians 5:16)!

    I’m cheering you on!

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  • Fragile Heart

    Fragile. That is how I would best describe myself these past couple days. Not that my body is particularly fragile right now, but rather my heart. I teeter between feeling like I have it together and I just might fall apart–all it would take is just the tiniest feather of a thing and I might just fall all to pieces.

    I don’t always feel this way but sometimes life throws a lot at us and after a while it takes its toll. Stress compounds stress as we face uncertain circumstances, new challenges, life’s ups and downs, and all our day-to-day obligations .

    Days like these I want to stay in bed, block out the world, and watch Hallmark movies all day in my fuzzy pants. I just want to switch off my brain, if only for a day and feel some relief from my own anxious thoughts.

    I have found there are some circumstances I can easily give over to the Lord, confident that He is working and capable, allowing me to be filled with peace and confidence that His timing is perfect and His purposes will be accomplished.

    But there are other times, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, or my sense of security, that I struggle to feel that same peace and confidence. Waiting on the Lord feels like an eternity in the wilderness, instead of a journey hand in hand with Jesus. It’s a continual struggle to keep turning my concern and circumstance over to God to reclaim His peace once again.

    In these fragile moments, I have found that God is extra gentle with me. When I turn to Him in prayer, He reassures me that He’s got me and everything will be okay. He is a loving Father that comforts and carries my confidence for me when I have none left. He lovingly reminds me of truth–that He is my source of peace and security.

    While we may feel fragile at times, we can be assured that our God is not. He is strong enough to carry us through whatever we face, powerful enough to clear the path before us, and gentle enough to wrap us in his protective embrace.

    I love the imagery of jars of clay in 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18:

    But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

    Just like a fragile clay jar, we can feel cracked, broken or chipped. When life hands us a heavy load, we can end up feeling like we just might break. We are fragile beings and that’s okay. Our strength comes from God. He is our victory, our confidence and our protector. We will face difficult things in this life but we will always find victory in Christ. It’s through our frailty and weakness that God’s light shines brightest and His power is revealed. His strength is made perfect through our weakness.

    If you are feeling overwhelmed by what life has brought your way, offer up your fragile heart to God. He is faithful and loving and will handle it with care. May God wrap you up in His strong and safe arms as you lean into His love today.

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  • “Success-full”

    My heart sank at the scene in front of me. I stared at the pile of dishes, already stacked higher than I wanted them to be. “Don’t think about that right now,” I reminded myself, taking a deep breath. “The dishes can wait. You need to call the doctor, and we have to pick up groceries this afternoon. Also remember the kids have martial arts class later today… Oh no, did I put that wet load of laundry in the dryer yet?!”

    I felt overwhelmed. Full time home-making and homeschooling wasn’t what I’d signed up for this year. I had been chomping at the bit to jump back into the workforce this year after a much-too-long hiatus and career swerve. But there I was. And here we all still are, in many cases feeling stuck or frustrated, spinning in circles just to keep everyone fed, clothed, schooled, and somewhat sane. How could this be OK? How could this factor into God’s big plan? I thought He wanted me to be … successful! 

    Can you relate? Most of our lives look pretty different in this pandemic-focused culture. The façade is gone. No longer do we see ourselves as invincible, nor do we take our health or social lives for granted. Mindsets and habits that we hadn’t taken time to think about before now are being brought into sharp focus as our days shape-shift closer and closer to a stripped down version of our old constructed reality.  

    On this particular day, I was especially frustrated. I found myself peppering God with somewhat accusing questions like, “What’s going on here, God? I feel like I’m spinning in circles. What are you doing? You put all of these dreams and desires in my heart! How am I supposed to execute them and be productive for You in this environment? I love taking care of my family, but when do I get a break from all of this to do something really important and successful?” 

    But on this particular day, God was ready for me. No further had this string of questions left my thoughts then He swooped in with some questions of His own. He (very kindly) responded right back saying, “Well what IS success, Bethany? What exactly does that look like? How are you measuring whether or not you’re being successful?” 

    Me: “oh ………. well ………um…..”

    I suddenly felt very exposed. I realized I had no good response. I was basing my vague idea of success on my own list of accomplishments and gauging how other people saw me. But I was getting the feeling this wasn’t the right answer. 

    My mind jumped back to a verse I’d memorized in my college days:

     “But what does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.

    Hmm. None of that verse involved attention from other people. None of that sounded flashy or important. It was simple, and quiet, and … well, humble. Was that really it? Where was the part about having a career? Or finally getting the bigger house? Or making enough money to retire? Was living a “successful” life actually a whole lot simpler than I was making it out to be? 

    I was beginning to see it, but as I kept looking I found John 15:4:

    “Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” 

    Remain in me. Stay connected to the vine. Fruit will come out of your connection.”  

    Ah. And I remembered. This is what Jesus took the time to talk to His followers about. Being with The Father. Staying connected to Him. How had I forgotten this? When had I decided that having an impressive resume and looking successful to others meant I was being a good Christian? 

    I thought about that all day, and then the next. Maybe I’d learned this all backwards. Maybe I’d learned that success looked like attention, and maybe that wasn’t actually true. Maybe all the success and fulfillment I longed for was actually waiting for me on the other side of seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God. Or in other words, “remaining on the vine.” Maybe the problem wasn’t in my lack of success, but my very definition of it.

    What if  I could choose to change my definition? What if I could actually reach this kind of success and then celebrate it! What if I could “remain on the vine” while I was finishing the laundry … and cooking … and washing the dishes. I had a feeling this was going to change everything. 

    What’s your definition of success? Is it grounded in remaining on the vine? Let’s adjust our definition of success to include these beautiful God truths! And let’s do it together. 

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  • Giving God The Heavy Stuff

    “Ping”. There it is. Another notification, another status update and late breaking news report. With the advent of social media and instant access to what’s happening all around the world, we are flooded daily with knowledge of more information than we are truly capable of processing. Major world-wide events, politics, and local tragedies stream in real time through a tiny hand-held screen. Sometimes for me it feels as though the never ending flood of information is inescapable.

    During the week, I work as an on-air personality, reporting the daily news for a couple of local radio stations. Before I go to bed each night, I brush up on what’s happening out in the great, big world. Then when I wake up in the morning, I check in again to catch any of the late breaking stuff I may have missed while we were sleeping. I’ve rejoiced at seeing God at work in some of the stories I read, of neighbors helping neighbors and churches serving in their communities. The sad reality is that the majority of stories I read in the news are bad. That’s how the news machine works. I have to try to compartmentalize things and stay objective, keeping the negativity and suffering at an arm’s length and focus on the positive when I can. Some days though, a certain headline, or detail of a story will literally bring me to my knees.

    One morning, as I was sitting at my computer, scrolling through the headlines, my eyes fell upon a story of a driveby shooting that injured several local teenagers. The article included an eyewitness account of a local mom who ran to the scene to help. I read her words and how she cared for these wounded kids, praying over them and speaking love and comfort to them in their moment of terror, and I found myself weeping uncontrollably. It was all just too much. I turned off my mic and held my head in my hands and sobbed.

    As the tears rolled down my face, I worried that I might not be able to pull myself together in time for the next broadcast just minutes away. I knew that my shoulders were not broad enough, or strong enough to carry the weight of all the feelings flooding in that morning, and I began to pray. I prayed for the families that lost children that day, I prayed for the mom who stopped to minister to the wounded, for the group of young people who did the shooting, and for my fragile heart that only my Heavenly Father could restore from this overwhelming ache. When I whispered a weak ‘amen’, I breathed deeply and felt at peace. Even though I could not reach directly into these difficult situations in the world, I knew my prayers could. I let God carry the heavy for me, turned my mic back on, and finished the morning news.

    You see, we are not meant to carry this much. Because of technology, we are privy to every tragedy that unfolds in almost every corner of the world. Our news feeds are full of them, stirring in us a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and profound anxiety. As fellow humans, we feel compelled to act, to speak out to do something. But what can we do? We can’t be everywhere at once and even if we could, we have limited resources, strength and wisdom to fix all the things.

    But God can.

    Isaiah 40:12-14 says “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding”

    God is truly Omniscient, knowing every detail of every situation before it even happens. He can see the past, present and future all in one view and knows exactly what to do. He is Omnipresent, able to be everywhere at once, reaching into situations that I cannot. He sees each and every person in their need and is closer to them than the air they breathe. He is Omnipotent, strong enough to carry the heavy. He commands the wind and the waves and will bring justice like a river. He lifts up the weary and gives us His strength, and brings down the oppressors, and one day He will set all things right again.

    I think I sometimes buy into the lie that to be effective in the world, I must be all these things too. All-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere at once. When I find myself overwhelmed by the concerns and weight of the world, and I turn to God in prayer, the pressure fades and I am reminded of the truth. God did not create me to carry the world, He is already doing that.

    God created me with a different task in mind. The truth is, while my influence and power are limited, God’s is not. I saw this best explained by a friend of mine, who shared the idea of 3 concentric circles. It gave me a great visual reminder of what I am called to carry and what must be given to God.

    The center circle represents my circle of influence. Our circle of concern will always be bigger than our circle of influence. But when facing a problem or crisis in the world, it can be helpful to discern where we actually have direct influence.

    For example, I cannot solve the evil that is racism. But I can have influence over my children and in my household. I can teach them that all are created in the image of God, and to see the belovedness and beauty in everyone. I cannot solve hunger around the world by myself, but I can feed my neighbor or volunteer at my local food bank. I can’t stop depression and anxiety for every person that suffers, but I can be intentional about caring for my own mental health, or call and check in on a friend and care for theirs.

    God is glorified in all of these things. He has placed you exactly where you are, in this season, for a reason. He has good works prepared for you (Eph. 2:10)and has given you influence to make a difference.

    Sometimes the big things happening aren’t so far removed. They are happening right under our own roof. Loss and grief, financial stress or difficult relationships. They all have the potential at any moment to feel too heavy to bear. It might seem easy to compartmentalize things we see out in the world, but how do we handle it when it’s right in our own family?

    In Matthew 10:29-31 we find reassurance that no detail, need or concern is beneath God’s notice and care. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

    Dear one, the very same God that can carry the weight of the world, sees you and can carry you too. It may even be that someone else’s circle of influence will overlap into your situation, and they will be bearers of blessing, comfort and relief.

    We can go to God with every concern (1 Peter 5:7). It is in prayer that God meets us where we are, shoulders our burdens and equips us for good work in every season. He is faithful and kind and big enough to handle anything life throws our way. God is the One that gave us hearts that care deeply in the first place. And then He placed us in positions of influence where He can guide us and shape our lives and the lives of others. Sometimes we can’t see it in the moment, but God is working through you right where you are.

    If the world feels like a bit too much to bear right now, take stock of your circles. It’s ok for your heart to break over what breaks the Lord’s heart too. There are real and heavy things happening in the world. But God has already overcome the world! Ask Him to show you what you can and can’t influence, write it down, and then wrap all of it up in prayer. God is all knowing, all powerful and working in every detail. He’s got this, and He’s got you too.

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  • 4 Ways To Have Joy in a Year of Uncertainty

    Let’s be real, my sisters. Life can be overwhelming and uncertain, but this year especially has felt extra turbulent. The struggles are real. Cancelled plans, grief for moments and jobs lost, fear of what’s to come next, etc.

    It’s easy to have joy when life is sailing along smoothly on calm seas, but when the waves begin to roar, our peace and joy seem to go overboard. Take a moment to picture a raging storm; see the ominous clouds swirling up above, hear the booming thunder that reverberates to your core and imagine you feel the darts of water from the crashing waves on your face. Got the storm in your mind? Your life may feel like that storm right now and that your joy is gone, but do you know what is happening a hundred feet below the storm in the ocean? All is perfectly quiet and peaceful. No sound, no storm, just stillness.

    The truth is that our joy is not lost at sea, rather it’s within us. It’s hidden in the depths of our souls, far beneath the surface, unable to feel the changing winds of uncertainty. One of my favorite quotes is by Sam Storms, who said “joy is not the absence of suffering but the presence of God.” It is in God’s presence that we find contentment and peace that surpasses any of the outward circumstances we are facing.

    When fears, anxieties and troubles arise in life, we must learn to lean into the presence of God to help us cultivate joy. Over the years, I have found a few ways that have helped me cultivate joy through faith in the midst of the fear and uncertainty:

    1. Declare God’s promises, not your problems. When you talk with your friends and family are you talking more about your problems or God’s promises? The Scriptures encourage us to speak life not death. That doesn’t mean you can’t share your problems, but with it declare God’s promise. For example, “I may not know what to do in this time of uncertainty, but God tells me that He will never leave me and that He will make His path known to me.” Do you see how that adds hope to your situation? And then when we are hopeful we become more joyful. I work with my coaching clients quite frequently to help them create their Affirmation GPS (God Positioning System) Declarations that allows them to discover the truths that they need to use to guide them in the season they are experiencing and refuel their joy. You can do this too. Simply select a piece of scripture that you want to declare as God’s promise to you. For instance, “I AM blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, NIV). Then write this down on a post-it note and display it in spots where you will see it and declare it over yourself.

    2. Lean on God, not on your plan. I confess that I am a recovering control freak. So as long as I could plan ahead, it gave me a sense of security even if things didn’t always go my way. However, when the pandemic hit, I couldn’t even plan a few days out because things were shifting so fast. It made me realize how much I was leaning on my plans and not God as a source of peace and joy. Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (NLT). As we go through times of uncertainty we need to step back, release control and simply ask God, “what’s the one thing I need to focus on next?” And then when that is done, ask the question again. Pretty soon what you will find is that you are leaning on God, your joy is being renewed and He is leading you through this time of uncertainty.

    3. Look at the donut, not the hole. Okay so nowhere in the Bible does it talk about donuts, but it does talk about gratitude and thanksgiving. In times of uncertainty it is easy to focus on everything that is missing, everything that is going wrong and everything that is not what we planned. However, what Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is to “give thanks in all circumstances” (NIV). The italicized word is my emphasis, because I want you to realize that God isn’t telling us we have to give thanks FOR all things but IN all things. When you look at a donut do you see the hole or the actual donut? When you look at the donut, you are essentially looking at all that you can be grateful for IN this situation. I don’t have to be grateful for the pandemic, but I can be grateful because I had people who checked in on me during the pandemic. I can be grateful that my job allowed me to easily transition to shelter in place and stay safe. Today, don’t look at the hole (what’s missing), look at the donut (what do you have). Remember “joy isn’t the root of gratitude; gratitude is the root of joy,” which is why the first note in my 90 Days of Delight journal/devotional is all about gratitude because it is the key to having joy no matter what circumstances you are going through.

    4. Work while you wait in the uncertainty. When I am in an uncertain situation, I want it to change NOW, especially when I think God has something greater for me. But God wants us to wait expectantly, which means not sitting on the couch whining, but rather working on something that will help you move forward. A great example of working while waiting is the story of Ruth. She moved to a foreign country with her mother-in-law hoping that God would provide for them. Instead of sitting around waiting for her circumstances to change, she took an opportunity to work in a stranger’s field. Little did she know that that stranger would become her husband and she would go from poverty to wealth in an instant. The work she was doing during this time of uncertainty might have seemed trivial in the moment, but it led her right into the arms of her promise. Working isn’t just about a vocation it could be starting a new hobby, reading a book, helping a friend, all while you are waiting for God to bring you out of the uncertainty. When we shift our perspective and wait expectantly, we can allow joy to fill our days rather than fear. Like Ruth, it may lead you into a season of clarity and promise.

    Even when you are facing uncertain situations, God’s presence and truth can be your anchor and source of joy. You don’t have to worry because He is with you. You may not know what’s to come or what your next move is, but He does. It may feel like a storm right now, but remember if you go to God you will find a deep joy that calms the seas and gives you a peace that passes all understanding.

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