Pencils and Possibilities

Pause: My son sat on the sofa, working on his school assignments. We are homebound this month, due to social distancing and the coronavirus, yet his spirits were high this morning while doing his math homework. Suddenly, he turned to me and exclaimed: “Mom, do you know what I used to think about last year when I was working on school work?”

“No, what?,” I answered slightly distracted.

“I used to imagine my pencil and all of the drawings and ideas it had stored inside it. Then, I would draw a picture and imagine how happy the pencil was that one of its ideas was now on paper.”

I couldn’t stop myself from grinning as I exclaimed, “I love that so much. That’s a really fun idea.”

“Why do you like that so much Mom?,” he responded, confused as to why I would find his thoughts so inspiring.

“I just like the way you think. That’s a happy thought.”

Renew: My little out-of-the-box thinker teaches me a lot about the world. How to run full-speed ahead full of joy without the weight of worry dragging him down. How to look at a situation from a new angle. How to capitalize on imagination. How to include everyone, not just your favorite people. How to care for the least of these, especially animals.

I absolutely love his pencil idea and feel it has much to teach us.

What do you think your pencil holds?

Maybe it is full of all of the gifts and talents you have to share with the world. What if, like the pencil, when you use one of your gifts for God’s glory, He smiles, happy that you shared it with others.

Maybe your pencil is filled with all of the memories you are making with your loved ones. Each moment in our homes, even under social distancing restrictions, is an opportunity to cultivate family bonds and experiences together. Sure, not every moment of quarantined life among family is going to be ideal, but it will certainly be memorable!

Life really is like that pencil. Our lives are filled up with potential experiences and memories. Each time one is written down in the annals of time, more are just waiting to be released.

Next: What will you draw today?

Sunlight Burning at Midnight: an Interview with Jess Ronne

It was my joy to get to talk to Jess Ronne in this podcast episode about her memoir, Sunlight Burning at Midnight. Jess is a wife, a mother of 8 children, a non-profit founder, and an author. She has experienced more heartache and struggle in the last 15 years than some people will experience their whole lives, yet her story is full of faith, grace, and hope.

Jess Ronne, also known as Jess+The Mess

In this podcast episode, Jess shares pieces of her faith journey: from experiencing a difficult pregnancy, to having a child with special needs, to walking with her husband through terminal brain cancer. She is candid in talking about her grief and the way she wrestled with her faith through those seasons. She also talks about the joy and hope of finding a new love.

Jess honestly shares about the real and ever-present challenges of raising a child with profound special needs. Now, more than ever, she is learning the importance of having community: family, friends, and a church body to stand alongside their family during both the good and the hard times. However, she explains that finding community is especially challenging for special-needs parents, as it is often a very isolating journey.

Jess Ronne, pictured with her family

I came away from this conversation both challenged and encouraged, and I hope that you do too. If something from this podcast episode resonates with you, please leave a comment below or join the conversation on PRN’s facebook page. If you’d like to learn more about Jess Ronne, you can read her blog and learn more about her non-profit, The Lucas Project, at her website: www.jessplusthemess.com.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Worry: Friend or Foe?

Can worry ever be helpful? My guess is that your instinctive response is to roll your eyes and say no. To be honest, worry has a pretty bad reputation, and for good reason. Worry often looks like endless negative ruminations. It can look like catastrophizing the future. It can lead us to unnecessary fear. It can get us stuck in endless thought loops, like a car spinning its tires in the mud but going nowhere.

I often find, though, that worry can be broken into two categories: helpful and unhelpful. Helpful worries are those that bring an important thought into our consciousness: something that needs to be dealt with and not avoided. For instance, if I anxiously remember that I’ve forgotten to tell my husband to pick up my son from school, that would be a helpful worry. It’s something that needs to be dealt with, and for which a plan needs to be made. It is not something I should avoid, though the situation may be creating anxiety inside of me. Another example might look like worrying about a confrontation or a hard conversation with someone that I love. This worry can be helpful, because the discomfort of my anxiety may be compelling me towards reconciliation in my relationship.

Helpful worries drive us to think about and make plans for dealing with the hard and uncomfortable parts of life.

On the other hand, unhelpful worries are thoughts about the future over which you have no control. Worrying about how your plane might crash, how you might have cancer in the future, or how long it will take the next virus epidemic to reach your neighborhood definitely classify as unhelpful worries. These thoughts lead to unneeded anxiety and cause our brains and bodies to react negatively. I’m certain that these sorts of worries are what Christ talks about in Matthew 6 when he warns us not to worry about what will come tomorrow.

This image of Matthew 6:34 is taken from the YouVersion Bible app.

Many years ago, when I was still only a mother of two children rather than four, our family moved to a new house. It was a dream come true for our family, as it provided more space, it was closer to family, it had a huge yard in which my children could play, and it came complete with a tiny goldfish pond made from a recycled old church baptismal. Therein began my worry.

Before we had even moved in, I woke up in the middle of the night, heart pounding from a nightmare about the pond. In my dream, my oldest child toddled into the pond (which looked substantially larger in my dream) and drowned. When I awoke, the dread began. I talked it over with my husband, and we came up with many rules for the pond.

  1. Do not play next to the pond.
  2. Do not stand next to the pond or feed the fish unless Mommy or Daddy are with you.
  3. Do not get in the pond.
  4. Do not bend over the pond looking at the fish.

After a few months went by and no incidents occurred, my anxiety decreased. In fact, the only problem we ever seemed to have was with our wild and fearless second-born, who always, even to this day, acts before he thinks. He lives to experience the world with all of his senses. Many times we found him leaning over, touching the water. Still, two years passed after we moved in, and no real incidents occurred.

One day I returned home from work, and my five year old came running out of the house to tell me about his day. With exuberance, he told me how while Daddy had been looking elsewhere, his little brother had fallen in the pond. Quick as a wink, he ran screaming to tell his Dad, who ran over and pulled our little guy out soaking and squirming. No harm had been done, but he was definitely frightened. In fact, he didn’t try to play in the pond again for quite some time. Sometimes experience teaches better than warnings…

However, the scare definitely increased our plans to better secure the pond. At this point, my worry could have taken a turn towards unhealthy fear and endless ruminations. Instead, it spurred me to action. Our children were soon put in swimming lessons after that incident. In fact, for years afterwards, the pond was filled in while we pursued our foster and adoption license due to license restrictions about water around our home. More importantly, I came away from that incident knowing that even when I wasn’t there to protect my children, God was watching over them. As children of the Most High, we are promised that He watches over us and protects us. As I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Our goldfish pond

Pause: Find a few quiet moments and reflect on Matthew 6:25-34. What stands out to you about anxiety and worry? How does this relate to your own life?

Renew: In thinking about your own list of current worries, which would you classify as helpful, and which feel most unhelpful? Why?

Next: This week, as you find yourself worrying, quickly decide if that worry is a helpful or unhelpful thought. If it could be helpful to make a plan regarding that worry, go for it! Then, give your worries to God, journal about them, talk to a trusted friend or counselor, and try to shift your thinking.

May we live in peace, free from the worries that drag us towards unhealthy fear.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Following the Call: An Interview with Ann Miller

Today’s guest, Mrs. Ann Miller, is someone I really admire. She and her husband have an extensive history of ministry: from pastoring, to mission work, to teaching, to working with international university students. It was my joy in this interview not only to hear about some of Ann’s unique life experiences but also to hear about what the Lord has taught her along the way.

Ann Miller: wife, mother, grandmother, Bible Study teacher, and retired missionary and French teacher

In this interview, we talk about everything from French cuisine to Scripture. Although it’s hard to summarize a lifetime of experiences in a podcast episode, Ann discusses the beginning of their church ministry in Alabama, becoming a missionary in France, and transitioning back to life and ministry in the U.S.

What I love most about Ann is her authenticity and boldness, and these qualities come shining through in our conversation. She is honest about how uncomfortable some parts of ministry have been, but she’s equally honest about how the Lord used those experiences and discomfort to prepare her for what lay ahead. After listening to this interview, my hope is that you will come away encouraged and emboldened in your own faith.

What resonated with you from this podcast episode? I’d love to hear about it! Comment below, or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus!

Pause, Renew, Next!