Category Archives: The Year of the LORD’s Favor

An Imperfect and Disjointed Reflection on 2014

Imperfect Reflections

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Whew! It is almost time for 2014 to become history and 2015 to bring with it what it will. If I’m being honest, this statement brings with it equal parts relief and nervousness because many of the events of 2013 and 2014 have wrecked me. As I reflect on everything I’ve lived through and learned, I am at the place where I am beginning to see some of the amazing blessings that are coming as a result of it all.

I used to be really good at putting words together about life. I wanted so badly for my life-long anthem to be focused on being a quiet, simple woman whose purpose was to focus on the exceptionally average. I’m starting to see and accept that, while the principles are something I will always hold dear to my heart, it’s not God’s plan for me to camp on that solitary theme forever. The season of living in a comfy cocoon is now one to look back on. There was nothing wrong with that time in my life, and one of the reasons I’ve been wrecked so much is because I’ve not wanted to let go of that simpler time in my life: the time before I took all of the words that used to flow so freely out of my fingertips and had to start making sense of them when applied to legitimately difficult circumstances.

The making sense of it all has left me speechless. I haven’t been able to piece together anything that could do justice to what I was realizing. I would either sound whiny, overly-dramatic, angry, or confused – likely because that’s how I felt. I was also paralyzed by fear at the thought of sharing too much of my story. One thing I’ve learned about our life stories is that some parts of them are meant to be shared while other parts need to be sacredly yours and God’s alone.  It was easy to be an open book before I had oppressive battles I was fighting, but when things started getting real, ugly, and resolved without a promise that this would definitely be the end of that trial, I didn’t want to even open up the book I was living some days.

So I’ve been the most quiet I’ve ever been in my life. Yet lately I’ve been feeling a gentle stirring in my spirit that it’s time to start sharing my story with others little bit by little bit.

Now that I’m realizing life isn’t about coming out on the other side of tough times, it’s about living a life of freedom in spite of the uncertainties that make up our time on earth, I’m not putting the pressure on 2015 to deliver a series of dreamy experiences because 2014 included some crummy ones. Life will always have struggles and challenges, but I don’t have to be defined by them unless I choose to be. I lived many good days this past year, and I choose to remember both the good and the bad because they have worked together to teach me some lessons I desperately needed to learn.

I’m in a peaceful place as I reflect on the life I lived this year. The word I chose as my one little word for 2014 was favor. It has looked dramatically different than what I pictured, but it has become beautiful to me. I have messed up, I’ve found victory in areas I never thought it possible in the past, I’ve cried hard and laughed hard. This has indeed been a favorable year. As I look ahead, I’m thrilled at the prospect of living out and sharing my one little word for 2015.

From Now On: A Christmas Miracle

When I read the Christmas story each year, God gives me the gift of a new lens, known as another year’s experience, to filter the spoken and unspoken details of those precious participants who lived out the story without the benefit of knowing what would happen next.

In our current culture, I’m constantly blown away at how much humanity seems to thrive on a good scandal. Before all of the facts are in, a vehemently-drawn line has been drawn with people spewing assumptions they believe to be true.  This problem isn’t a new one. Mary would undoubtedly agree.

We don’t know her entire back story. It’s easy to assume she was the best good girl you could ever meet, and while she very well may have been, one thing I’ve learned from living is that God tends to use us in big ways after we’ve proven our faith is genuine. We can’t prove our faith is genuine until we’ve endured trials.

When the angel visited Mary in Luke 1:28, he called her “favored one” and just a few minutes later reiterated that she had found favor with God. (Luke 1:30) My reading lens this year can’t help but ask what Mary had gone through to make the God of the universe point His loving finger at her and say, “Her. I want her to be a part of this fantastic plan I have for mankind.”

To live out the gift that God gave Mary, she had to have a faith that could endure all kinds of whispers of scandal. She had to be okay with the fact that some people would never believe the truth, that the very Son of God was divinely growing inside of her.

As I’ve thought through this fact this year, I appreciate the power of God’s grace even more. He gets His children through the most humbling and devastating circumstances so that we can come out on the other side clinging to a gift more precious than we could have possessed otherwise.

I was touched by the observations and declarations that Mary made in her song of praise to God shortly after she began carrying the Christ-child. The words that we choose to speak about God and to God say much about what we’re experiencing.

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,

  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

                        Luke 1:46-55

From now on, generations will call me blessed” she said. The specifics of what that young woman had endured to make that statement will remain a mystery to us, but that’s one of the things that’s so beautiful about the love and grace of God. He knows every detail of our stories, the things about our pasts that have caused us to feel shame, the dreams that fell flat, the tragedies that tore us up with grief, and He pours His love and grace all over them to make a beautiful gift.

Maybe you, like me, have had a difficult year. No one but God will ever know or understand how the challenges have wrecked you and changed your perspective on so many aspects of life. That’s kind of a gift in and of itself, don’t you think? Sure, what has happened matters, but what is actually important today and in the future is the from now on. My prayer this Christmas is that others can see how blessed I am by my almighty, loving, merciful, and faithful God and want even more of His grace themselves.

Merry Christmas friends!

33 Lessons from Life

You only turn 33 once, and today is my day. 😉 As I’ve reflected over some of the things I’ve learned in my years on this earth, I decided to record 33 of them on the blog today. Here is my list in no particular order. What would you add?

Lessons from Life

1. Reading is a joy that deserves your time. Read to learn, read to enjoy, read to escape, read to relate, read to unwind.

2. Take care of your body. Eat a balanced diet, exercise whenever you can, moisturize, get a good night’s sleep, work to maintain your spiritual and emotional health. These are all key to being able to truly take care of those you love.

3. Never take the lives of those you love for granted. I don’t think it’s possible to fully comprehend how to do this until you’ve come close to or have actually lost someone dear to you, but do your best. The pain of loss can’t be prevented when it happens, but it’s not quite as sharp if you don’t have lingering regrets.

4. Comparison is a dangerous friend. Don’t compare yourself to others; don’t compare one season of your life to another. It’s an exercise that will both exhaust and confuse you while keeping your from fully appreciating the life you have right now.

5. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are real. They’re dangerous and will attempt to devastate you. God is stronger than them, and He will ultimately be victorious, but be on guard and depend on Him for discernment and deliverance.

6. Now that I’ve had a taste of working outside the home part time after five years as a stay-at-home mom, I’ve learned numerous invaluable lessons. One of the biggest ones is the ability to say with confidence that being a mom is just as hard and rewarding whether you’re home with your kids 24/7 or not. (See number four about comparison.)

7. Hold onto good friends.

8. Find a hobby and carve out time to invest in it at least once a month.

9. Go on at least one date a month with your spouse. No matter how much you believe you’re being a great parent, employee, steward, or whatever adjective you want to believe to be true by putting it off, you’re only fooling yourself.

10. Parenting is not about you. It is in the sense that you have countless opportunities to learn how to improve yourself, but you have an obligation to let go of your children a little more each year that they live so they can be their own people.

12. That being said, your kids will never outgrow needing you on some level, so you have the gift of parenthood for your entire life. Do your best to find a healthy balance of being involved in all seasons of their lives.

13. You will never make everyone happy all of the time, and this is okay!

14. You can have wisdom! Pray for it. (“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5)

15. The Bible mentions the importance of rest, waiting, and being still far more times than our culture’s demands make you believe you need to be busy. Busyness does not equal a successful and fulfilling life.

16. Don’t take your health for granted. Each day that you feel good is a gift of grace, and there are many people who aren’t given that privilege. Cherish the days your feel strong, and ask God for strength on the days that are rough. Trust Him and thank Him in both circumstances.

17. No matter how many years and earnest efforts you put into being good all of the time, you will eventually need an abundant dose of grace.

18. Thank God every day for something you love and something that is a challenge for you to enjoy. Gratitude is a natural product of spiritual maturity.

19. Prayer is powerful – really, really powerful. God has changed His mind on more than one occasion after listening to the prayers of His people.

20. Life is not about here. It’s about the future, eternal hope we have in Jesus. When life seems to keep getting crummier, remember that heaven is where our treasure lies. You aren’t to the place where it’s all worth it yet, so just keep waiting for it.

21. Anxiety is a beast that wants to destroy your life. It can attack when you’re vulnerable and even when you think you’re going strong. Never stop fighting it with Truth. (Philippians 4:8 – “Finally brothers, whatever things are true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about things.”)

22. Perspective is one of the essentials to living a free, happy, peaceful life. Life can be hard, but God is always good. We all face seasons that are abundant in fun as well as times of trial. We need all of them.

23. You do not have to be defined by what others believe to be true about you, so choose not to be. Instead be defined by God’s love and grace.

24. You are able to survive on less than what you think you need.

25. You are never going to have it all together. Embracing this fact and owning your strengths and weaknesses are incredibly freeing and allows you the opportunity to relate to others and let go of the comparison game just a little bit more.

26. You don’t have to have all of the answers to trust God. The world is full of confusing and heartbreaking situations. Spending all of your energy to try figuring out why bad things happen will deplete your hope. It’s not your job to understand, it’s just your job to trust God. (Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the LORD with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”)

27. Love. It’s one of the most misunderstood words in the world. The expectations and definitions that the world, and even at times the church, place upon it are skewed. Look to the very One who is love’s originator to see it define and transform your life. The world will know you are God’s by your love. (John 13:34-35 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”)

28. God’s will for you life is not a specific job that you are never to waiver from throughout your life. His will for you is to fear Him, love Him and others, serve Him, and follow Him through each season of your life. The way you do that will change as you change. Just because you had success doing something in the past doesn’t mean you should do it forever.

29. Don’t resist dreaming. God has dreams for you, so you should dream about them, too.

30. There’s much learning that happens in the waiting. Enjoy the waiting periods in your life, but be ready to let them go when it’s time to take action.

31. Be responsible for your words and actions. When you’re mad, vent your frustration privately. When you don’t know the whole story, don’t assume you do and spread false information. Gossip is one of the most deadly poisons. No matter who shares it with you and tempts you to join them in partaking of it, run away!

32. If you do something because you’re inspired by guilt, God is not the one inspiring you to do it.

33. Everything you create doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Strive for good, flaws and all. You never know what “good things” you share with the world will be a catalyst to change someone’s life for the better. Those who are truly inspirational in the world let go of perfection and chose to be brave enough to be vulnerable.

Hitting Reboot: The Painful Process of Being Made New

One thing I’m growing to appreciate the older I get is the fact that, like it or not, more comfortable or less, change is part of what we do as people.

I think, as much as many of us resist the idea of change, we all have a deep-down desire to change something about ourselves at any given time in our lives. Do you agree?

Then life happens. Sometimes we hit a boring stretch where we feel we aren’t doing much changing and all we want is to get past this seemingly pointless time in our lives. “Once I’m done with _________, life will be better.” Eventually we run into a trying time where we think, “Once this craziness is over, life will be back to normal.”

I’m sharing over at the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood blog today a little about how my journey through changing has led to me hitting reboot recently. I’m sharing the highlights (and quite a few lowlights) of what has been happening in my life recently. I’d love for you to read it for yourself and then share with me your thoughts, stories, or struggles in the journey of changing. Being made new is worth it!

 

What I’ve Learned About Living Free

Oh, hello there friends! I know I have been absent on here for the past month, and I’ve missed you. It’s been a crazy few weeks in our family, how about yours?

Now that I’m at the end of September, I can’t believe what a haze I’ve been in since August ended. Ha! Honestly, I feel that way about this entire year. I don’t even know where to begin to catch up, but I’m going to attempt to start doing just that.

You know the butterfly analogy that threatens to sound boring by now because you’ve heard it so many times before? Well, I’m going to use it because it works for me right now. I have spent years of my life feeling an internal conflict over the fact that I have never been “radically transformed” since I began my relationship with God at an early age. Maybe you can relate.

I know that my relationship with God started when I was young. I’ve felt His presence with me, and I can look back and see evidence of Him working through me and speaking to me. However, in the first couple of decades of my life, I didn’t experience a defining moment, tragedy, or success. I felt average, vanilla, and not worth much. Even though I could quote every scripture that refuted that notion, I still struggled with it.

Then I entered my thirties. Being over thirty has not had any influence on the transformation going on in my life; it’s simply an easy starting point for me to document the changes I’ve been undergoing. There are two main phases I’ve seen in my adult life. The first one is the cocoon phase.

For my early adult years, I lived in a cocoon, figuring out everything from what it means to be an adult, how to have a career then let it go, be a good wife and mother, choose to be intentional about relationships, and not get caught up in the trends of this world. I subconsciously built a protective cocoon around myself as I adapted to all of those changes so I could process everything.

About a year and a half ago, I began moving into the “second phase” if you will. This is the phase I call living in the freedom of God’s grace. Walking in freedom begins with breaking out of the cocoon. It was not always comfortable in there, but it had become familiar and sometimes that feels safer than being free to observe the world outside. I haven’t especially enjoyed parts of breaking out of my bubble. I knew how to handle the challenges of being a one-income, one-vehicle family who enjoyed actively ministering in the church the only way I knew how, but all of the circumstances and certainties of our simple way of life were shaken one by one.

I started a quest for spiritual freedom after a couple of painful blows to my comfortable life. But grasping the end of the rope of freedom from deep in the pit of despair is both invigorating and terrifying. Each step of climbing out of the muck is exhausting. And then I reached the top to see the world in a way I never possibly could have until I’d lived through some trials that left me wounded, dirty, and desperate for what the Bible actually says about the tough stuff, and even the not-so-tough stuff about life.

Freedom is a wonderful thing. Spreading my wings of freedom can be glorious, but it’s still hard! It’s terrifying to fly because I never know when the wind will gust and throw me off the path I thought I was supposed to take. I’ve been thrown way off the course I believed was right when I was in the cocoon.

I am not saying that the cocoon was a bad thing. Each layer of it built up over years of doing my best to be faithful through various challenges and experiences. I needed the time spent in my cocoon of being exceptionally average to grow. It was dark and lonely in there at times, but it was still home to me. The people in there with me all loved me and forgave me when I messed up.

The crucial thing for any believer to remember about life is that we are not meant to live in cocoons forever. We will outgrow them, no matter how comfortably we’ve built those walls around ourselves. This is wonderful, but it also means flying free in the outside world where there are no more guarantees that everyone is going to understand or accept me. And I don’t like not being accepted or understood.

Cocoon Quote

The circumstances I’ve survived since I started down the road marked by grace have been excruciating at times. I literally didn’t know if I would survive some of them. Even so, grace got me through. I’d like to say I’m stronger for them, but instead I’m beginning to see that I am not stronger, but God’s grace in me is. My faith is no longer contingent on what I can accomplish; rather, it’s strengthened because God got me to the other side.

I know that I am now living a life of freedom because I could actually write the previous paragraph and personally own it. Before, I could quote sermons and scriptures and think they were powerful, but now? Now I know it’s true because I’ve lived it. I’m worth a lot to God because He has seen to it to be faithful to me through my dark times, my temper tantrums, my grief, my laziness, my insecurities, and my shame.

That is what I’ve been pondering lately in a nutshell. If you’re feeling the tug at your cocoon to break out and live a life of freedom, I’d love to hear from you and do my best to encourage you on your journey. You are not meant to do it all alone, nor are you meant to try sewing up the rips at your walls in an attempt to stay comfortable. I’m praying for you in the meantime.

 

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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Confessions of a Shame-a-holic

I’ve let shame make too many decisions for me in my life.

For example, I have always been notorious for not sending out thank you cards. When it actually happens, I’m always late in getting it done.

Most of the time, I listen to Shame say, “It’s too late now. You’ll only embarrass yourself more if you send a card this long after the fact.”

And the sinking feeling in my chest overwhelms the desire to remedy something I don’t like about myself. I listen to the conversation in my head as I cower with flaming cheeks:

No one can argue that it’s a shameful to not express gratitude. It’s insulting to everyone involved for you to act like it’s okay to send the card now. They’ll probably think you have a major heart issue when it comes to gratitude. In fact, you never did finish that written list of 1,000+ gifts God has given you. Never mind the conversations you have with God about what you’re grateful for. There’s no tangible proof that you’re a grateful person. You should be ashamed of yourself. (You are probably reading this thinking, “Whoa! Spiral much?” The answer is yes. Shame is a pro at that.)

So I concede and let shame define me. I don’t send out the cards. According to Shame, I am ungrateful and that’s just who I’m going to always be.

Except I’m not ungrateful.

I think of the people who have blessed my life nearly every day. I recall the little and big things others do for me to show their love and support, and I do my best to live it forward.

I am a daughter of the King who has flaws. One of which is being scatterbrained when it comes to sending mail.

There are many wise people who have expressed a truth that Shame has been pushing out of my head and heart for far too long.

I am what I believe I am.

If I believe I’m a hopeless, ungrateful mess, then I’ll become one. Nothing can change this weakness that I have until I’m ready to come to terms with the fact that my feelings are not always right.

I may feel ashamed. A mess. Hopeless. But choosing to live that way is a shame (pun intended) because I’m actually a new creation in Christ who gave me the incredible gift of grace.

True freedom comes when I begin to see myself the way that God sees me. You see, He washed away the mess that was me a long time ago with that grace. For some crazy reason, I choose to smear the filth back on myself and attempt to seal it on with shame.

Holding onto shame is pointless because Jesus bore my shame on the cross. It’s been washed away, and He doesn’t see it when He looks at me. I’m the only one who does.

Tonight I wrote some thank you cards. They are three months late. That voice in my head mocked me the whole time, but I realize now it’s just an untrustworthy noise. Shame’s opinion of me is not the one who counts. I’ve let it count for far too long, and as a result I’ve become crippled, but I will not stay that way.

I’m walking in freedom now, and I can’t bring the burden of shame along for the journey.