Fighting Words

Wherever you go, in restaurants, stores, even gas stations, there are background tracks playing. Like elevator music that fades into the periphery of conversation and the din of customers, the songs go mostly unnoticed. Then, a favorite song comes on, and suddenly you are aware that there has been music all along. Our thoughts play in much the same way. All day, every day, we are forming an inner script, creating the narrative of our lives inside the confines of our minds.

Our thoughts are the hidden tracks of our lives.
Photo by Skylar Sahakian on Unsplash

Most of the time, we remain blissfully unaware of our thought content. Still, if we considered our thoughts to be like an album playing in the background of our lives, upon turning up the volume, what track would you hear playing in your mind? Some common refrains I hear in my counseling office sound like:

  • I am never enough.
  • What if I fail?
  • What do others think of me?
  • I hate my body.

The list can go on and on. Each of our minds have specific, go-to, negative tracks that our brains like to play when we feel tired, weak, hurt, discouraged, or lonely. The amazing fact about our mind is that all day, as we think and act, we are wiring and rewiring our brains. The neuronal pathways that “fire” together in our brains also “wire” together. This means that, as we continue to think the same negative thoughts, we are making super pathways for those thoughts in our brains. On the other hand, as we change our thinking patterns, our brains are capable of making new pathways. It’s a completely phenomenal design by our Creator who is in the business of redemption. That is the good news.

The bad news is this: it takes a lot of work. A LOT of work. First, we must become aware of our thought lives. Paying attention to our thinking, or “metathinking,” does not come naturally. It feels strange at first. The process of beginning to change those negative thoughts once we are aware of them is even more difficult. After all, if we truly believe the negative scripts playing in our minds, then with what ammunition are we going to fight them?

Ellie Holcomb has a song, Fighting Words, that I absolutely love. In one short, fun-loving song, she sums up the work of fighting negative thoughts by speaking truth to them. As we begin to challenge the thoughts, rather than believe them every time they present themselves, change begins to occur.

A few years ago, I heard a pastor on the radio teaching about taking our thoughts captive to obey Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). He advocated that the imagery of taking a captive is the language of war. It doesn’t mean gently reprimanding a wayward thought. It means forcefully taking it to the dungeon and chaining it up. We are taking thoughts prisoner. We are reminding ourselves of the truth of Scripture, even when we are not yet able to believe it. Even when we don’t yet feel it.

The “fighting words” we use to speak back to the negative and untrue thoughts playing in the stereo of our minds help us incrementally build new pathways in our brains. Each small success has an impact on our spirit and brain. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Even attempts to challenge old thinking patterns begin to disrupt old neuronal pathways. That, friends, is the beauty of neuroplasticity and a God who loves to redeem and make all things new.

Photo by Skylar Sahakian on Unsplash

Pause: Take a moment to still your body and calm your brain. Slowly breathe in and slowly exhale. Read Romans 12:2 and meditate on the idea of being renewed by the transforming of your mind. What does this mean to you? What could this mean about your thought life?

Renew: As you have time, list some of the negative thoughts that plague you consistently. Begin to write down true statements that you can use to combat those thoughts when they come. Find Scripture passages that directly relate to those thoughts and use them as your “fighting words.”

Next: This is hard work. Give yourself grace for even trying. Healing is never linear, and neither is change. It takes time and practice. Thankfully, you have a whole lifetime to keep practicing. Choose one thought that you want to start fighting this week and begin the warfare!

May we know and accept Grace and Truth as we change the music of our thought-lives.

Pause, Renew, Next!

In Want + Plenty: An Interview with Meredith McDaniel

It was my privilege to sit with Meredith McDaniel and talk about the faith journey that led her to write her first book, titled In Want + Plenty. Meredith is a licensed professional counselor and owns her own private practice, Milk + Honey Counseling. We met each other over a decade ago, and it has been a joy to see what the Lord is doing in her life.

Meredith McDaniel, licensed professional counselor and author of In Want + Plenty

In this podcast episode, Meredith shares how, through experiencing a season of unease and transition, the Lord began teaching her through the story of Exodus about the joy of finding “manna” in her every day moments. She began to look for His provision in seasons of discontent as well as in seasons where there was abundance. Meredith explains that she feels called through her writing and counseling to help others “taste of the land of milk and honey here on earth.”

In Want + Plenty will be available January 20, 2020 anywhere books are sold

During this episode, Meredith shared that through Emily P. Freeman, she became one of the first members of HopeWriters. She believes that hope*writers has been integral to being able to write in a way that she could not only be supported, but keep her “soul intact” in the process.

Meredith’s book, In Want + Plenty: Waking Up to God’s Provision in a Land of Longing, is available for preorder now. To learn more about Meredith’s book and ministry, visit her website: https://www.meredithmcdaniel.com/.

During our chat, Meredith talked about ways she is trying to focus on prioritizing her marriage and family relationships. One of the ways she is currently fostering intentional time with her children each week is by using a new resource she loves, called Imaginative Prayer.

I found this conversation to be so encouraging. If you know someone who would also be encouraged by it, please share! If something about this conversation resonated with you, 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!

Heart Cries of Every Teen (Replay): An Interview with Jackie Perry, LPCS

Last spring, I was privileged to interview my friend and colleague, Jackie Perry, LPCS, about her journey of writing her first book, Heart Cries of Every Teen: Eight Core Desires That Demand Attention. Well, now we have something to celebrate, because her book has now been published. In honor of the occasion, I am reposting this podcast interview.

Jackie E. Perry is a Licensed Professional Counselor and author of Heart Cries of Every Teen.

Originally a two-part interview, for this throwback episode, I have combined the two parts into one full episode. In this interview, Jackie shares about her faith journey of becoming an author, as well as her heart for counseling teens. Jackie’s book, Heart Cries of Every Teen, is now available on Amazon, and is receiving excellent reviews. If you have an adolescent in your life, this book will be tremendously helpful and encouraging to you.

Heart Cries of Every Teen helps to encourage and equip parents of teens.

If something about this episode resonated with you, please comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page. Additionally, if you know someone who would be encouraged by listening to this podcast, please feel free to share it.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Look Mom, It’s Christmas!

With a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face, my youngest son excitedly pleaded with me to come to his room. “It’s decorated for Christmas!,” he exclaimed. He had been busily working on something for the 10 minutes prior, but like the distracted and multi-tasking Mom I am, I had not stopped to see what he was doing.

As I walked into his room, he proudly pointed at the top of his dresser. “Look, it’s for Christmas!,” he proclaimed. His dresser had been transformed by Christmas decorations, and it looked surprisingly good! I then realized that his decorations looked awfully familiar. He had carefully removed each piece from the living room bookshelf and painstakingly placed each one on the top of his dresser.

I looked at his face, and the pride was so evident. He had done his best to decorate. This had been his grand idea, and he had pulled it off. “Wasn’t I so happy?,” he seemed to be asking. How would I respond?

“It looks great, buddy! You did such a good job,” I told him.

Little did I know, this was the only encouragement he needed to continue his decorating escapades. The following day, as I unloaded groceries from our van, he disappeared again. Before I had finished unpacking groceries, he ran into the kitchen to find me. “Mom, come to my room,” he said and grabbed my hand. “What is it?,” I asked, trying to finish in the kitchen. “Come see my Christmas decorations,” he insisted.

I followed him down the hall and into his room, where he excitedly pointed to his dresser. There, next to the decorations he had previously taken from the living room, he had placed two more Christmas knick-knacks that he had confiscated from the entryway. These decorations had been hanging higher up on the wall, and I wondered how he had reached them.

“Um, those things are mine. I want you to leave those where I had them,” I gently responded. ” You need to ask before you take other people’s things.”

Crestfallen, he begged me to leave his new-found treasures. “I want them in my room!,” he insisted. I responded, “No those are my things, but I will give you something else you can put up in your room.” Easily persuaded, he wanted to see what else I had. I pulled a Christmas card off the counter and told him he could hang it up in his room. With his new treasure, he ran off happily to find the tape.

Within minutes, he was back in the kitchen stuffing paper into the garbage can. “What are you putting in the trash?,” I asked. As I got closer, I could see with dismay that, in order to hang up his card, he had taken down a poster his older brother had hung in the room they share. Before asking anyone, he had crumpled it up and stuffed it in the trash.

Losing my patience, and feeling sympathy for my older son, I explained that he could not take other people’s things. I told him that, because he shared a room, he had to ask his older brother before taking his older brother’s things down. At this point, feeling ashamed, my little guy burst into tears. As I hugged and rocked him, he told me that he just wanted everything in his room for Christmas.

Having four boys means that I find some interesting decorations in our home…

There’s a lesson here for all of us. Christmas is a time to celebrate our Savior, Emmanuel. He came to save us. All of us. There is enough of Him to share. Yet, like my son, we often find ourselves trying to hoard resources to ourselves at Christmas.

My son wanted to keep all of the decorations for himself, enjoying his own private Christmas. I have found myself feeling less than generous this month as well, with both my time and my finances. The more I feel overextended, the more I draw inward, finding myself guarding my time and resources. My guess is we can all relate to some aspect of this story.

The last two Advent candles symbolize joy and love. Jesus coming to save humanity is the manifestation of both joy and love. He came as an infant and grew up with the poor. He fashioned wood with his hands. He walked dusty roads and desert places in sandals. He had dirty feet and worn hands. He formed the universe with His words, yet had the patience to carefully disciple twelve ragamuffin men for 3 years. He did not keep his joy, love, or resources to himself. Not even his own life. There was and still is enough of Him to share.

Now, I am the first to preach boundaries, because all of us have limited time and resources to give. We certainly cannot give what we don’t have. However, as believers, we’ve been given a Messiah who loves in a way that multiplies and never runs out. In I John we are reminded that as an outpouring of the love He’s shown to us, we will love others. What could celebrating the love and joy of our Savior look like for you this Christmas?

Pause: Take a moment to rest and still your mind. Listen to and meditate on the song, We are the Reason, by Avalon. What are your reflections as you think about Christ’s love for you?

Renew: In what ways have you found yourself guarding your time and resources or overextending yourself this Advent season? Spend some time reflecting on what you want to prioritize this week.

Next: Think of one way you can show love to someone in your life this week and intentionally look for moments of joy.

May you experience the love and joy of our Savior.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Peace Like a River

Recently my youngest son swapped out his favorite nightly song list. As I tuck him in each night, I sing him three songs of his choosing. The B-I-B-L-E and He’s God the Whole World in His Hands used to be among his favorites, but I suppose recently he has grown tired of them. Suddenly, this month, he requested some new tunes. His updated nightly list includes the “Where?” song (aka Down in My Heart), Jesus in the Boat, and he now ends his personal playlist with “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.” This child clearly has a Mama who was raised in the 80’s!

Peace like a river. Are rivers peaceful? Some are peaceful like a lazy river, but others flow like an untamed torrent, creating rapids and crashing waterfalls. Still, Isaiah writes about Jerusalem this way:

For this is what the LORD says:

“I will extend peace to her like a river and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;”

Isaiah 66:12a NIV

God promises to bring peace to Jersualem like a flowing river. I love this quote by Beth Moore about peace: “God’s peace is like a river, not a pond. It is not stagnant. It is not confined. It moves. It forges tributaries. It breaks in. Brings life.”

God’s peace breaks into our lives like an undeserved gift of grace. In fact, when announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, the angels sang not just about joy coming to the world, but also peace:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2: 13 – 14 NIV

Peace to those on whom his favor rests.

On this second week of the Advent season, as we consider the candle of peace, let’s look more deeply at the meaning of peace. The noun “peace” can have two different definitions:

  • freedom from disturbance; tranquility
  • a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended

Often when I consider peace, I think of the first definition and dream of blissful tranquility. (Mom-life has me dreaming of this form of peace often!) I believe that most people in our culture would define peace as a lack of anxiety, a moment of calm, or an internal centeredness. Although as believers we do have moments of this kind of tranquility, I’m not sure the Christian life is meant to be lived free from disturbance.

So, the second definition may also deserve our attention. Peace can also be a “state in which a war has ended.” Perhaps, when the angels sang of peace, they were not just promising tranquility, but also declaring that the war would soon be over.

The angels’ declaration of peace was not to everyone. It was only to those “on whom his favor rests.” In other words, those who believe in the Son. For the children of God, there is no more war between life and death. No more wrath between God and man. No more debt to be paid. When Jesus came, He paid the price for our sin and gave us access to the Father God. We have been given the gift of peace.

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

Life may not always be tranquil on the outside, but our war is over. We are at peace with God. He is doing a new thing, moving in our lives, making tributaries, and bringing life. He carries us through grief, fear, and suffering, and promises a peace that passes all understanding. (Phillipians 4:7)

That kind of peace, friends, is a beautiful Christmas gift indeed.

Pause: If you have a few moments, practice praying a centering prayer based off of the angels’ proclamation. Inhale slowly and say, “Glory to God.” Exhale slowly, and say, “Peace on Earth.” Repeat 5-7 times. If you want to enjoy a song about peace, listen to Casting Crown’s rendition of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Renew: Take some time to meditate on or journal about how Christ, the Prince of Peace, brought peace to us. How is His peace flowing and bringing new life?

Next: Thank the Lord this week for His gift of peace to you. Keep your eyes open for examples of peace in your life.

May the Prince of Peace forge rivers and tributaries of peace in your life.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Dressember: An Interview with Amy Morgan and Meredith Loss

There are some issues of social justice that feel so big, it can be overwhelming to think about how one person can make a difference. Human trafficking is certainly one of those issues. In this podcast episode, I was honored to interview two of my friends, Amy Morgan and Meredith Loss, to talk about how through participating in Dressember they are using fashion to help raise awareness of human trafficking.

My two podcast guests, Meredith Loss and Amy Morgan

Along with thousands of other Dressember participants, they have chosen to wear a dress each day of December in order to raise awareness and funds to help in the war against human trafficking. During this episode, they both share how they got involved with Dressember, how they logistically do the challenge for a month, and how others can get involved.

This conversation was a lot of fun because Meredith and Amy are real-life friends. We talked about everything from Dressember, to “thrifting”, to what we’re currently reading. Amy and Meredith also shared their favorite Scripture passages and who inspires them.

If, after listening to this podcast, you are interested in learning more about Dressember, you can visit the website for the Dressember Foundation. During our conversation, Amy also mentioned a Ted Talk by Blythe Hill, Dressember’s founder, that covers more about the motivation for and passion behind the movement: How a Dress Can Change the World.

If something about this podcast episode resonated with you, please comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page. I hope it inspires you to know that everyone can do something to help change the world and spread light in dark places.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Almost There

Advent brings with it the anticipation of a celebration. The word “advent” means: “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” I did not grow up in a church that celebrated Advent or lit candles, so I am later in coming around to the traditions surrounding it. For those of you who may also wonder about the celebration of Advent, the season is ushered in the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and with it begins a spiritual countdown of sorts to Christmas Day: the arrival of Christ.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It is fitting, with the anticipation of Christ’s coming, that the Advent candle lit on the first Sunday of December symbolizes hope. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Israelite people had been waiting a L-O-N-G time for the Messiah to come. They had long carried hope for what had been promised to them by the prophets. Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9: 6-7 ESV

700 years! That is a long time to wait for a promise. One generation passed their hope on to the next, verbally telling and retelling the old stories and prophecies. Generations died, and new ones were formed, and still they waited. Finally, the beginnings of change arrived in the form of small miracles foretelling the Messiah’s arrival:

  • The angel Gabriel appears (Luke 1:19, & 1:28)
  • A priest mysteriously goes mute (Luke 1:20)
  • A barren woman is suddenly with child (Luke 1:24)
  • A small baby leaps in the womb (Luke 1:41)
  • Angels are found singing in the sky (Luke 2:13)

These miracles were not broadly publicized. Most Israelites had no idea they had even occurred. After hundreds of years of waiting, baby Jesus arrived with little fanfare or celebration.

The chosen Messiah certainly did not come in the way that the Jewish people had expected. They had been waiting in hope for a Savior who, as Isaiah had prophesied, would come and set up his own government. They were living under Roman rule and felt oppressed. They wanted a strong leader to come and save them, not an innocent babe arriving practically unannounced. Their vision was too small. They wanted to be rid of Roman rule, and God had bigger plans. Jesus didn’t rid the Jews of Roman rule. Instead, He banished sin and death itself, providing salvation for all people. God’s ways of delivering on His promises often look very different from our expectations.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Advent is a time of reflecting on Christ’s arrival 2,000 years ago, but did you know that Advent also continues in the present? We are not just celebrating a past event, we are anticipating what is to come! Jesus has promised he is coming back again, and we can fervently await his coming. The hope of Advent continues today!

As I write about Advent this Christmas season, I want to make the experience multi-sensory. Advent is a time for meditation and worship, and using more of our senses enriches that experience. For this reason, I will be including a song in each Advent blog post that parallels with the week’s topic. Almost There, written by Michael W. Smith and sung by Amy Grant, is a beautiful song all about waiting in hope. Enjoy!

Pause: Take a moment to still and quiet your mind. Listen to the song above, then read Isaiah 9: 1-7. Allow yourself to slow down enough to really meditate on the words.

Renew: What are you waiting for this Christmas season? What does Hope mean to you this Advent? Take time to think, pray, or journal about how Christ’s coming has changed the world and how it has changed you.

Next: In the busyness of the Christmas season, it is sometimes difficult to focus on Christ. Think of ways that you can live out Hope this Christmas season. Maybe it will be in the form of beginning an Advent tradition with your family or perhaps in loving a neighbor who is grieving and has lost their own hope this Christmas. Pray and use your imagination!

May you be filled with Hope this Advent season.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Valleys of Sorrow, Rivers of Joy: An Interview with Gina Carr, Part 2

In the second part of my conversation with Gina Carr, she continues her story of returning from Mozambique and beginning to put down roots in a new town. She explains how, due to caring for an ailing parent, she lacked the capacity to look for friends but how the Lord provided the community they needed.

Gina shares openly about the seasons of loss her family has experienced over the past few years: from losing a parent, to suffering a miscarriage. Walking through seasons of loss, Gina explains how she has “mined treasures” in her relationship with the Lord. Psalm 139 is near to her heart because she has learned that, whether she is at the top or the bottom, He is there with her.

During the podcast episode, Gina mentions two books that have ministered to her over the past few years. Through the book, Hinds Feet on High Places, the Lord encouraged her to take emotional risks, using this quote: “Love and pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know love, you must know pain too.”

Then, after experiencing a miscarriage, Gina says that the book Grace Like Scarlett, by Adriel Booker, ministered to her soul. She quotes a line from the book, “Grief commands our attention.” Gina says this quote sums up how she felt in the months after her loss. She spent time sitting in her grief, journaling, praying, reading, and crying through the pain. Through grieving, she learned that “it’s okay to feel disoriented with the Lord. He’s not disoriented with you.”

Even as Gina talks about her seasons of sorrow, glimpses of hope and joy are found throughout her story. Now, as a foster parent, Gina is experiencing love and joy through the gift of caring for a baby girl that has come into their home.

There is so much about this conversation to love, and it encouraged and challenged me tremendously. If something about Gina’s story resonates with you, comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page. Please share it with others who you feel would be inspired as well.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Burning Timber

For decades, a beautiful white pine has stood guard next to our home. It has withstood storms, snow, wind, and even a tornado. This summer however, we noticed a strange sound emerging from within its trunk and limbs. The distinct sounds of chewing could be heard from yards away, yet as closely as we looked, we could see no creatures eating it. Two friends who are knowledgeable about wood and trees mentioned that the culprit was most likely pine beetles.

Because our family has had a busy autumn, we put off dealing with the issue. As weeks passed, large swaths of the tree turned from green to brown. In quiet moments, we could still hear the gentle and persistent chewing. My husband spoke to his father about helping him chop it down whenever he had a free weekend.

One afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, I heard a chainsaw rev up. When I looked out of the window, there was my father-in-law, carefully sawing down the tree. My husband came out to help, and within the hour, I felt (more than heard) a mighty crash. Timber! The mighty tree had fallen.

The tree was almost as wide as I am tall!

This however, was only the first step, as the giant of a tree still needed to be destroyed. Because it was infested with pine beetles, it was necessary to burn each and every part of the tree, to prevent the insects from spreading to surrounding healthy trees.

Beginning with the trunk, we began burning. My husband worked for hours, sawing and throwing limb after limb into the fire. After the first day, only a fraction of the tree was destroyed. So far, we have burned for 3 days, have a bonfire scheduled next week, and still there is tree left to destroy. It will be a lengthy process.

As I watched the blaze last Saturday, the phrase “our God is a consuming fire,” came to my mind. I realized that a spiritual analogy can be found in our white pine. When sin, like pine beetles, infests our lives, the contamination is gradual. Days, months, or years can pass before the damage is evident. Still, the result is the same: disease and death. Like my father-in-law, the Lord comes and, in one fell move, chops the tree down to its roots. We are saved!

Even though salvation is immediate, the process of removing sin from our lives is life-long. When the Lord saves us, the Holy Spirit takes months, years, or decades to do the slow work of purifying our hearts. Piece by piece, branch by branch, he burns and purifies the rotting, parasite-filled parts of our lives.

The process of refinement is not always easy. Discipline and purification can be painful, but how thankful I am that the Lord takes His time. He is a consuming fire but has all of the patience He needs to carry out His purposes with mercy, day by day.

Pause: Find a quiet moment, and read Hebrews 12. What about this passage stands out to you?

Renew: Take a moment and reflect on your own journey with the Lord. Can you think of ways that you’ve seen the Lord slowly transform your life? What was that process like for you? If you have not yet given your life to Christ, take the plunge and watch what He will do!

Next: Be mindful this week, reflecting on how the Lord has been refining your mind, your relationships, and your behavior. Remember that transformation is slow and is not always a linear process.

May we be filled with gratitude for how our God is faithful to consume the sin that seeks to destroy us.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Calling and Covenant: An Interview with Gina Carr, Part 1

We all experience seasons in our faith journeys that don’t turn out the way we envisioned. My guest, Gina Carr, understands this better than many. Over the course of two episodes, she shares the story of how her life has taken unexpected twists and turns through seasons of intensity and what the Lord has taught her along the way.

My guest, Gina Carr, shares about her experiences through the lens of faith and the Lord’s goodness.

In this episode, Gina tells about her family’s journey into mission work. She and her husband felt called to work in Africa, but their time living on the field was shortened greatly by unexpected and extended illness. For the sake of their health, they moved back to the United States, feeling confused about their calling.

Gina explains that through the ashes of their failed mission, the Lord changed her and her husband’s view of their marriage covenant. She shares that through a retreat they attended, called “Train to Reign” at Christian Training Center International, the Lord began reworking the fabric of their relationship.

This is only the beginning of Gina’s story. There’s so much more to come in the second episode! If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend and subscribe. If something you heard on today’s podcast resonated with you, comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!