Category Archives: Gratitude

The Important Work Waits Where We Lean Down to Find It

I’ve made it a tradition to write a back-to-school letter every year on the eve of the first day of classes. I had quietly been planning the letter’s contents for weeks. The theme was going to be, “We have important work to do.” I was determined to write the letter before my head hit the pillow that night because I believed so much in what I needed to say.

After a full day of running around my classroom and making sure everything was as ready as it could be, I came home and worked to get my excited kids calmed down and ready for bed. At last, they were both tucked in and I sat down at the computer and typed the first sentence of my letter:

I have important work to do.

Just as I hit the period on that sentence, my four-year-old princess crept out of her bed to find me, saying my name in her sweetest voice. She donned her most charming, shy smile while holding one of her snuggle buddies, and I felt the words start coming out of my mouth automatically,

“Go to bed, my love. Mommy has something important to do.”

But then I looked down at her, and my heart reminded me that the important work was not in writing the message. Rather, it was investing in her. Rocking her while she’s still small enough to sit on my lap. Listening to her talk and talk and talk about her favorite color and her new friend at preschool whose name she had still forgotten to ask 4 days in. The important work was in us singing Jesus Loves Me together while I stroked her hair then telling her all of the things I love about her.

It was when I chose to stop thinking about writing the letter and opted to lean down and pick her up that I felt clarity in which direction I needed to lean this month.

Not a week went by in August where I was not compelled to stop what I was doing and lean down – lean down and pray my heart out, lean down and send the text or make the phone call, lean down and write the card, make the meal, or send the package. Because important work is never really accomplished if we don’t lean down to reach those who need a hand of hope to encourage them.

We all have important work to do, no matter if it’s at work, at home, with strangers, or those we love, but after feeling helpless as so many people I love the most have been hit with the most difficult trials of their lives in the past few days and weeks, I’m driven to remember to take the time to make the little things that can be easily overlooked the important things.

 

That only happens when I take some time to lean down and notice the details, to hear what they have the energy to share, and fill in the gaps they can’t yet manage to bridge on their own.

 

While I’ve worked hard to get my school year off to a successful start, my most important work has been accomplished when I took a few minutes to intentionally invest in real people with real struggles.

 

That back-to-school letter never did get written, but an important change happened inside of me instead when I resisted the impulse to charge ahead while I was leaning forward so that I could lean down and see how crucial living out what I try to teach is to making a genuine change in a desperately hurting world in need of hope and love.

A Winter Poem

Winter,

You taunt me every year with your isolating illnesses and crippling storms, bringing out the worst in everybody. Most generally, I don’t like you. Even so, I do my best to find your most admirable attributes and enjoy making memories with the unique qualities your season brings.

Snow is beautiful. The magical way it meanders through the air to change landscapes thrills me. I adore snow angels and snowballs, Olafs and sled tracks. I wonder at the way the white blanket makes my part of the world echo while it dazzles even the faintest light into looking brighter.

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But the snow isn’t every day of winter. It slowly melts, leaving behind muddy mounds of muck. Just when I was finding joy in your beauty, Winter, you goad me with messy puddles to muddle the otherwise desolate backdrop of dormancy.

I don’t know what to do with dormant seasons, Winter, and this is why I believe you and I don’t have a healthier relationship.

“Rest!” You tell me as I do my best to follow the example of nature.

And so I do in the moments where I would rather be investing in the world outside. The virtual world scoffs at this notion of rest. It begs me to find something of worth to do with my time, or at least settle for filling it with mind-numbing time killers.

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“I’m only one season,” you kindly remind me.

“Then why do you seem to last longer than the rest?” I reply between sniffles.

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I don’t know if we will ever be good friends, quiescent ogre. You require me to dig deep within my reserves to see the hope of sunshine after weeks of gray. Even still, I must admit that as spring approaches each year, I feel just a bit stronger because of what you required me to endure, and for that I give you my greatest respect.

 

Remembering, Living, and Snapshots

A year ago, we were reeling from the sudden loss of my father-in-law. The details that go into wrapping up someone’s life once they’re already in eternity are overwhelming. The shock of knowing they’re no longer going to participate in the big or little activities of life is staggering. Last February is a complete blur in my memory.

However, in the process of grieving and moving forward, beautiful truths begin to come to light. I thought I’d share a few that I’ve observed as well as a few of my favorite pictures that sum up some of my favorite memories this February. I’m so thankful that God has given us the gift of some sweet days together as a family this year.

  • Life still has beautiful moments.

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  • Laughter is allowed and it does bring about healing.

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  • Your life may change, but it still has a purpose, which is allowed to change, too.

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  • It’s okay to feel the pain of loss from here on out, but you don’t have to let it consume you.

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  • Great things almost always come from losing good things.

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  • You don’t have to wait for the happy, polished ending to have a good life. Embrace all parts of life on this earth, for you aren’t going to get a second chance at it.

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  • You’re not going to handle everything perfectly. You’re going to have bad days, good days, and some days that have a little of both. Ultimately, do your best and don’t repress. God has already been your strength, so depend on Him to be your joy.

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  • Always, always, always rejoice at and celebrate milestones.

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  • We all work hard at building a life that we love. Sometimes, we’re going to have to rebuild it whether we want to or not. We may not have control over much in life, but we do have the power to choose whether or not we’re going to rebuild ourselves into messy heaps or stronger, more refined people who choose joy.

In Everything Give Thanks

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I have a started a half dozen different posts in recent weeks and months that I can’t seem to complete for the simple reason that I can’t seem to express properly how much I am changed. A new woman. Never able to be 100% the same girl I used to be.

And I am grateful to the point of tears that God in His mercy renews us. Renews me. At some point in every day, He uses little things to remind me when I need a shift in perspective, but He loves us too much to only use the little things.

I am one who holds on tightly to the little things. I have spent years applauding anything and anyone who shined a light on the importance of people, moments, and things that don’t seem significant. This will always be a part of who I am, and I don’t want to completely rid myself of this mindset because it truly is the little things that make all the difference in the world.

Those five minutes extra I spend with my kids at bed time, sending that text to say hello to a friend, sharing an evening watching TV with my husband, a hug, a funny video, a clean sink – the little things are things to intentionally keep a part of our lives because they work together to complete our purpose on this earth.

But what about the big things?

They don’t come every day or even every year, but they will come. I’m not referring to the happy kind of big things. I’m talking about the daunting, overwhelming, oppressive, stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of big things. A devastating illness, death, a broken relationship – you’ve already filled in the blank if you’ve faced your big thing.

The truth is, big things will change you. No matter how much you try to convince yourself that they won’t. Anytime you lose the ability to live your life in the same way you were accustomed, something has to change.

The big things make you realize how many happy little things you took for granted before. The big things make you see the little habits that you’ve held onto that you should have purged long ago. The big things tempt you to take on one little negative thought and let your mind run with it until you have a million lies taking you captive.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says that God’s will for me is to give thanks in everything. That means my big, ugly things as well as my mundane little things. As much as we say that it’s hard to remember to give thanks for the little things, I’m going to propose that perhaps that’s not always the case. Those big things are big. They’re hard. They hurt. They won’t go away and let you go back to the way life was before.

In Everything Give Thanks

And yet, I’m more grateful for my big things than I ever was for the culmination of all the little things I took notice of before. It’s because of my big things that I became aware of my need to change. Before my big things, I took my gratitude for the little things a bit too far and never wanted to step outside the comfy little nest I’d built for myself. When the big things forced me out of my nest, however, I saw that I needed real freedom, genuine change.

For the first time, I have an understanding of what God meant when He said His will was for me to give thanks in everything. Even when I wasn’t able to give thanks for the tough stuff, I realized that I could at least be thankful to God in the middle of the worst days. Eventually, God conquered them, and I could get a peek into why I needed to go through the experience.

So this year, I’m thankful for the many gifts God has given me. Some of them are happy little things that kept me going in while I was grappling with the big things. Others have been beasts that threatened to destroy me. The great thing is, they succeeded in obliterating parts of me that needed to change, and as a result I have been made new because of God’s beautiful grace. They worked together for my good, for my freedom.

How You and I Can Make a Difference

No matter how much I strive to have a grateful heart, sometimes a need arises in someone else’s life that makes me realize I’m taking something for granted. These things can range from freedom to health, family and friends to spiritual enrichment. If I’m not careful to think globally, I can get extremely comfortable and oblivious to the world’s desperate need for Jesus while I dust off (haha! who dusts?!?) my three bookshelves full of books that explain various Biblical topics or not notice the overabundance of church buildings I pass in any given trip around town.

That’s why I’m grateful that God is always keeping someone in my life who lives globally. The cocoon I’ve built around my sweet little family is great for building security for my children, but it will not benefit them if I don’t let them peek outside and see the souls in need in our community and the world. There are thousands of people who want to know more about Jesus every day. They aren’t rolling their eyes at self-righteous posts on Facebook or trying to figure out how many times a year they should make an appearance at the church down the road. They are searching for Truth, hope, an unfailing love, and they don’t have the luxury of picking which congregation or piece of literature is going to make them feel good or challenge them best.

One of the people in my life that challenges and reminds me to think outside my little world is my cousin Jordan. He didn’t set out to be a missionary in a foreign land when he began working towards his business degree in college. He simply went on a missions trip to the Philippines over Christmas break one year and came back changed.  A couple more short-term missions trips later, I remember meeting him for lunch one day as he was trying to figure out how to make use the talents God had given him to make a difference in the lives of these people on the other side of the world. They were hungry for change, but they didn’t know how to do it by themselves. His story inspires me to not pigeonhole how I do ministry to what my past experience or degree says I am qualified to do.

He ended up working with a fantastic organization called Convoy of Hope, which many of you have probably heard of. What you may not have heard about is one of their ministries called the Women’s Empowerment Program. For the sake of keeping this post from getting too lengthy, I will let you check it out on your own if you’re interested, but I’m in love with the mission they are helping women in various countries around the world accomplish.

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Jordan had the opportunity to head up the pilot program in The Philippines. I want to share a letter he sent out to his friends and family after he got back to the states last month about a specific and urgent need for a church building. Since he sent out this letter, the need became greater as a typhoon brought a lot of destruction to the very city where these people are begging for a church.

Friends,
As many of you know, I spent January through July of this past year in the
Philippines piloting a Women’s Empowerment program for Convoy of Hope – a
global faith-based NGO based in Springfield, Missouri. The purpose of this
program is to target at-risk women (single mothers, low-income families, etc.)
and holistically empower them and their families to live better lives. This
empowerment includes an education in how to choose, operate, and manage
their own business and grant funds to get that business started. As a result of the
microenterprise education and grant funding over the past months, ten women
and their families have experienced a 258% increase in daily income and are
saving money regularly for emergencies and future business expansion. Women
also received extensive education in parenting and women’s health.

However, as you know, it is impossible to holistically empower a person without
addressing their spiritual needs. Most of the women and their families were
unsaved with many never having heard a presentation of the gospel in their
language. Thanks to a partnership with the International Mission Board, a
Southern Baptist missionary named Greg was able to share the gospel weekly (in
Tagalog) with a group of around 60 women and their families. After eight weeks,
seven participants, one husband of a participant, and two children accepted Jesus
Christ as their Lord and Savior and followed him in believer’s baptism in the
South China Sea.

The ten participants and their families – around 50 to 60 in all – continue to meet
in a house church where there is no separate area for children’s ministry and in
which there is literally no room for one more person. With additional
beneficiaries to be added at the end of this year, there will be no place for this
growing church in the community of Market View to meet. There is a great
potential for outreach in Market View if there is a place for believers to gather.

Following in the direction of the work the Lord is doing and in a move to
address a ministry need in that area of the Philippines, I drew from my personal
savings to put a down payment on a vacant lot in an urban poor area of Lucena
City. I paid a surveyor and architect to prepare primary plans for what a church
at this site would look like and cost. I did this not because it is easy or certain – in
fact, I absolutely do not have the money to see this project through on my own. I
took this dive of faith because I am 100% confident that the Lord will provide for
this need that He has brought to light.

I tell you about the steps I’ve taken not to bring praise to myself in stepping out
in this way. I just want you to know how much I believe in this work that the
Lord is doing; in other words, this is not just a whim that I have, it is serious and
necessary work that I believe enough in to have invested in myself. I have also
attached a funding proposal that details the background, plans, and needs of the
project.

I am asking you to come alongside the body of believers in Market View in this
work. One of the church members, Carmen, had the idea that we should daily lift
this need up in prayer, so if you would like to join us, we are praying daily at
11PM Philippines time – 10AM Central time. Set a reminder on your phone or an
alert in your calendar and pray that the Lord would continue to guide and bless
these believers and provide for their needs as they desire to reach out to their
community.

I used to be shy in asking for financial support, but I know that just as the Lord
works in the hearts of people to bring ministry needs to light, He is
simultaneously working in the hearts of people who have the capability to give.
If you have questions about this project, general questions about the church
planting movement in the Philippines, or would like to give, please contact me. I
would love to share more with you about what the Lord is doing and how you
can be a part of that work.

May all that we seek to do be Spirit-led.
Jordan

The Church's current location

The Church’s current location

Would you be willing to become a part of this exciting endeavor?

I have been praying daily for this church’s financial needs to be met so more can be reached and transformed by God’s grace. Would you consider joining me and people on both sides of the globe in prayer every day?

The financial need is great. They are in need of around $9000 by the end of the month. God can provide that, but the approach I’m taking is this: “What if God used me to help provide that?” I know I can’t make a significant dent in that kind of financial need, but God could still use a little bit from me and a little bit from you to work together to be the church and encourage people who are hurting in many ways right now.

I’m reminded of this description of the first church established after Jesus was on earth, and I feel especially challenged to follow this example.

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” ~Acts 2:44-47

If you are able to contribute financially, or if you have a small group or Sunday school class who might be able to team together to make a contribution, please contact Jordan by email at <jordanleetaylor@gmail.com> or phone (417)839-3406. He can answer any specific questions you have, and has laid out the details in subsequent emails, so he is ready to receive your queries as well as encouragement from other believers that God is at work in this situation. Thanks so much for taking the time to read about one way God is doing a good work in this world that is full of heartbreaking, heavy news. He is still working, and He uses people like us to accomplish His plans.

That Post Where I Focus on the Exceptionally Wonderful Little Things That Make my Life Full

These two great posts by my friends Jen & Ashley reflect perfectly on what I was working on writing this week! Expectations. Gratitude. Space. Intentionality. They make for an epic battle of finding peace and balance. Here are a few of my reflections on letting go of expectations while choosing gratitude and joy in the exceptionally average.

Expectations are a vicious beast. They can change something that is good in a person’s mind into vile, wrong, and completely dysfunctional in a matter of minutes.

I could list one personal example after the next of how I’ve let expectations ruin my day, annihilate my confidence, and completely change how I did things as a parent, housekeeper, wife, and woman.

One example that appropriately fits since I’m sharing this on a blog is my views of how I blog. I’m sure I’ve shared it a few dozen times on here before that how I deal with writing (which does involve blogging quite a bit for me) is a parallel to how I’m working my way through life.

When I first started blogging five years ago, I went into it with no expectations or preconceived ideas of what makes a blog a good one. I thought it would be the easiest way to share updates and pictures with family who lived far away. As I got into it, I found so much joy in reflecting over the little and big things that made up my days with my family. I began to work through my feelings by having an outlet to write about them.

My expectations for blogging started to change when I began reading more blogs by people who made something impressive out of their corners of the Internet. After a while, I decided that no one really wanted to read about every single trip to the park that Dash and I made any more than I wanted to post about the same old same old again. Sometimes in motherhood, – make that life in general – the things that become mundane after weeks turn into months which turn into years don’t seem as noteworthy. And the joy that once came with recounting the little things can be forgotten and replaced with the need to take on bigger things.

I don’t think this is a completely terrible thing. It’s really not necessary to retell every detail of a trip to the zoo to enjoy the trip to the zoo. It’s obnoxious to hear someone constantly promote how they cleaned their house, potty trained their child, or found success in dating their spouse better than I ever could because of their flawless, printable and pinnable 10-step plan.

But sometimes, it’s good to revisit the little things that used to bring myself and others joy to share. Expectations of what other people might want to see when they choose to open up my blog space or what I expected the space should look like by now need to be put aside and replaced with what inspires me to this day. I have changed immensely in five years, but I still love and prioritize my family, which has both gained and lost smiling faces in the meantime.

They inspire me to be better.

They make me rethink my expectations and choose to embrace them with their current strengths and flaws.

They make me laugh and cry within a five minute span.

They make me better and do a great deal to shape who I am.

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They make me work hard every day to overcome the lies in my head that I’m not pretty enough, worthy enough, or together enough to deserve them. Because they will catch whatever mindset I choose and adopt it for themselves. And they are, just as I am, created just right in God’s image.

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They make me step outside my comfort zone and try things I’ve never tried before. They cheer me on!

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They can make summer days in the back yard the perfect mixture of laughter, playing, relaxing, and going crazy.

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They are my people. The ones who wake me morning or night, smother me or sometimes push me away, the ones who God hand selected to gift me with so that I could be who He intends me to become. I love them with all of my heart.

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For Better or Worse

Yesterday was my parents’ 34th anniversary. They both took the day off of work to spend together. And that’s exactly what they did.

Starting at 1:30 in the morning when my dad woke up mom telling her something wasn’t right. The only time they were separated was when she followed behind an ambulance taxiing him to the hospital as his body went through a massive heart attack the doctor has made sure to reiterate people are not supposed to live through.

But he did. Because God is the one in charge of the days of our life, and He still has a purpose for one of the greatest men alive to continue living on this earth. And I’m thankful, all of the reasons for which are for another post.

Yesterday I was reminded how privileged I’ve been my entire life to witness true love and marriage vows being lived out by two people who have always striven to live out life authentically for me and everyone else to see.

I was able to see the way she genuinely and quietly stated her heart when others said, “Sorry it’s not a very happy anniversary.” She said it over and over and she meant it more every time. “It is a happy anniversary because I still have him here with me.” Not once did she feel cheated, but only immensely blessed. Healthy perspective once again illustrated to me by the woman who has taught me so much about living by faith.

I got to watch her feed him his cardiac-patient meals covered in mystery gravy instead of sitting across from him at a restaurant recollecting their years together. They still smiled and reminisced and proved their love and devotion to each other as he lay flat on his back with innumerable wires coming off him, and she held his hand.

True love endures through better or worse. They meant it when they said it, and they’ve proved it countless times over the decades. On this anniversary their day started out the worst way imaginable, but they chose to see it for better as the day wore on because they still had each other’s hand to hold as they celebrated another year gone by.

For Better or Worse