What’s In a Number?

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on the scale. That number dictated my mood, my motivation, and my self-worth. Numbers of calories took up way too much mental and emotional space. Those numbers related to how much food I could eat, how much food I wouldn’t eat, or how much I needed to exercise. I knew the number of calories in various foods and could add or subtract them in my sleep. I was a slave to the numbers.

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on a scale.

Thankfully, those numbers hold less power over me at this stage in my life. In fact, rarely do I pay much attention to those numbers anymore. Still, I have found other numbers can quickly take precedence in my mind. The number in my bank account. The number of an upcoming bill. The number of days left until vacation. The number of friends who RSVP’d to my party. Numbers seem to take up a lot of my mental space.

In this season of life, however, the numbers I seem to focus on most are the number of friends, followers, and likes I have on social media. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth. I have a love/hate relationship with social media for all of the reasons that most people do. On the positive side, it means instant access to my friends, even those I don’t get to see in everyday life. Also, from a ministry aspect, it means I have an instant platform from which to advertise and reach an audience I may never see in real life.

Numbers of likes and follows can also become a source of bondage in the desire for approval.

On the other hand, social media stirs in me a constant desire for likes and approval. There is an addictive quality of needing to check and recheck, and, before I know it, my time has been wasted. Minutes and hours lost on social media are also numbers.

Numbers are not inherently bad. They are in fact just measurements. It’s what I am measuring, and the significance I place on the numbers that can turn them into a form of idolatry. An ideal number can quickly become bondage. God knows that our hearts are idol factories, and Jesus kindly warns us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6: 19-21 NASB

How then, can we break the habit of getting caught up in the number cycle? We can begin by recognizing when we’re allowing ourselves to be controlled by them. For instance, when I find myself discouraged by numbers of followers or listeners, I tell myself that God can change the world with one individual, and if even one individual is encouraged or inspired, then all of the hard work was worth it. I can tell myself that my worth is not defined by likes on social media. When I’m worried about my bank account, I can remember all of the times the Lord has provided for me before and how He promises He will take care of all of my needs according to His riches in glory. My worth and security cannot be tied to how much money I have, my weight, or my number of followers.

It’s all about a perspective shift. Numbers are only numbers after all. They’re only measurements. They are not the treasure, and they will always disappoint. The treasure is Christ, and He means for us to enjoy the gifts we have been given, including our bodies, our friends, and our resources. Let’s not let the numbers take away our joy.

Pause: Breathe in and breathe out. Focus on the exhale. Read the above Scripture passage from Matthew and meditate on it for a few minutes.

Renew: Is there a place in your life where you are placing too much focus on numbers? What do those numbers represent for you? How have they become an idol or a kind of bondage for you?

Next: If you find that there is an area in your life that numbers have become too important to you, pray this week about how the Lord can change your perspective. Seek out a source of accountability for yourself so you don’t have to carry it alone.

May we store up treasure in heaven and enjoy the gifts we’ve been given!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Endurance, Running, and Hope

I hate to run. Running is hard on the body, but it’s also hard on the mind. There was a phase in high school when I gave running a chance. As an uncompetitive freshman, track seemed like the best fit. I knew I could at least put one foot in front of the other, so I decided to give it a try. Because I didn’t seem to have the build of a sprinter, I ended up in the long distance division.

The greatest perk of that track season, besides building some pretty decent calf muscles, was that my best friend joined the track team too. This made practices not just tolerable, but fun. While the rest of the track team ran ahead, we would intentionally fall behind and jog slow enough to carry on a conversation.

photo by Bruno Nascimento

If my friend happened to miss a practice or if the coach caught on to my game, I had to actually apply myself and work hard. At these times, I had to convince myself to keep moving even though I wanted to stop after every milestone. For every step, I battled the internal voice to quit, slow down, or rationalize my way out of the last mile. Then came the track meet. No longer was I trying to slow down and talk. There were too many people watching and too much at stake! Unlike practice, the race was a performance.

Because I had not pushed myself during practices, I did not have the competitive edge and stamina I needed to win the race. Without doing the practice necessary, I lacked the mental and physical endurance to perform well under pressure.

So it is in spiritual matters. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul likens the Christian journey to a race, and races require endurance. When I consider spiritual endurance, persecuted Christians in other countries come to mind, but endurance can also show up in other life circumstances.

For instance, endurance might look like the daily struggle of single parenting or surviving the slow, steady thrum of chronic pain. It might look like bearing up under a hard relationship or dutifully showing up at a job you despise so that you can pay the bills. Endurance comes in many forms.

Spiritual endurance is forged in uncomfortable or painful circumstances. Endurance means long-suffering. It means having grit. It means holding on and setting your face like flint to finish the job. Honestly, endurance sometimes means weakly holding on and praying for the strength to keep going.

I did gain some helpful tools during my time on the track team, one of which was a breathing technique. I learned to breathe in time with my feet hitting the pavement. In this way, the pace was set, and I found a rhythm I could sustain to the end of the race.

Romans 5

As Romans 5 (above) assures us, through endurance character is developed. The end result of building character is hope, and God promises that His hope will not disappoint or put us to shame. So, in whatever circumstance you find yourself enduring, pound the pavement, set the pace, breathe in and out, pray, and keep going, friends. His hope will not disappoint.

Pause: Breathe in and exhale slowly. Read and meditate on Romans 5:1-5. What do you take away from this passage?

Renew: Think about a circumstance in your life that the Lord has used or is using to build your endurance. Can you see character and hope forming through that circumstance?

Next: Pray this week for someone you know who is in a long-suffering situation. Consider writing them a note of encouragement or calling to check in with them.

May the Lord strengthen our faith and build our endurance muscles.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Raising a Generation of Bible-Loving Kids

Unlike my usual blog posts, that focus on 3 principles: Pause, Renew, and Next, this blog post centers on the Next part: practically putting faith into action. Specifically, this post is about how to put faith into action in our homes, and nurture a love of God’s Word in our children.

One of the most important elements of passing faith to the next generation is inspiring a genuine love of God’s Word. No, this is not a how-to article, written by an expert giving you a step-by-step guide of how to do just that. Rather, it’s an honest look at what is working in our home, starting with a few fun resources that my four boys love!

The Action Bible

This fun, beautifully illustrated, comic-book style Bible is a hit in our home. When our children opened it for Christmas one year, they could not put it down. You know it’s a winner when you find them reading on the couch for fun, at a time they could have been playing. There have even been occasions when one of my children has told me about Bible stories that I couldn’t remember teaching them. When I asked where they learned that story, often it was the Action Bible that taught them.

The Action Bible is exciting, bringing Bible stories to life for young readers.

This comic book has inspired a passion in my boys for the stories, characters, and plot line of the Word of God. They come back to it over and over, so in my book it’s a winner.

Seeds Family Worship

Every year at Christmas, my husband and I give our children each three gifts that represent the gifts the Wisemen brought Jesus: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Gold is the fun gift, Frankincense is something they will wear, and Myrrh is a spiritual gift. One year, for their spiritual gift, I gave each of my boys a Seeds Family Worship CD. We were so pleased to discover that each song was written directly from Bible verses. The best part: the songs were actually fun to listen to!

This is just one of many Seeds Family Worship albums that my family loves!

Unlike a lot of Children’s music, the songs aren’t cheesy. They are catchy, however. Once, one of my kids complained that a Seeds Family Worship song was stuck in his head. I responded, “Great, I’m glad to know that Bible verse is in your mind.” Without trying, he had memorized Scripture!

The Daily Audio Bible

The Daily Audio Bible for Kids is such an easy, accessible, and attention-sustaining way for children to hear the Bible.

One of our family’s newest traditions is quickly becoming a household favorite. We listen to the Daily Audio Bible for Kids each night before our boys go to bed. My husband and I have both listened to the Daily Audio Bible app for years. Recently, we discovered there’s a kid version of the app, in which a child reads one chapter of the Bible per day. My kids love listening to another kid read to them. While the adult app reads more Scripture and loses their attention, the kid’s version is only one chapter per day, so they listen much more attentively. Sometimes my oldest son reads along while he listens. I give a big thumbs up for this app, as it presents the Bible to our entire family and ends our day with time in God’s Word.

The Beginners Bible

The Beginner’s Bible is a gentle and fun introduction to the Bible through stories.

We have the Beginner’s Bible on CD, and my third-born child loves to listen to the stories as we drive. As a younger sibling, he sometimes spends hours in the van, accompanying his brothers to school and various appointments. Listening to these Bible stories as we drive is a great way to not only fill up time, but also instill a love of God and His Word.

Of course, the most important way to instill a love of God’s Word in our children is to love it ourselves. Let your children catch you reading the Bible. Share what you’re learning with them in conversation. Ask them what they’ve been learning in Sunday School or Children’s church. Talk about Scripture around the dinner table, in the car, or while taking a walk. Your kids seeing that your faith is real and active is a key element in desiring it for themselves. No one wants a regimen. We all desire authenticity and relationship – with God and with each other.

The list above is not exhaustive, but these are a few resources our family is loving. Feel free to try them out for yourself and pass them on. If you have other ideas, music, books, or apps that your family enjoys, please comment below or share on PRN’s Facebook page! We are in this thing together friends, and raising a new generation of believers is a gift and a calling. Let’s spur each other on!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Unexpected Blessings

It was a Saturday morning, and I was being spontaneous. Rather than cooking breakfast, I had decided to surprise my family with donuts. So, I rolled out of bed, threw my probably unbrushed hair up, and drove to a local grocery store. Because it was early in the morning, I was betting on the fact that I wouldn’t see anyone I knew. In my rush to get back and present the donuts to my hungry boys, I hadn’t taken time to make myself look presentable. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth. This was going to be a fast mission: get in and out of the grocery store and back home to my hungry boys.

Yum! Saturday morning donuts!
Photo by Cecília Tommasini from Pexels

My mission was almost accomplished, when I noticed an older lady standing in front of me at the checkout line. Unfortunately, she seemed friendly and open to conversation. I purposefully did not make eye contact, hoping to avoid all opportunity for chatting. Then, I made the mistake of looking up. She jumped at the opportunity:

“That color looks lovely on you,” she said.

I cringed a little. There I was trying to be inconspicuous with my un-put-together self, and she had noticed me anyway. I responded, “Thank you.” From there we chatted about the contents of her grocery order. Then the conversation took a turn, as she shared that because her husband had dementia she rarely left the house, except to buy groceries.

In that moment, my priorities shifted. No longer feeling inconvenienced, my heart was full of compassion. These, as I have come to know them, are God-ordained moments. She was aching with loneliness and desperately in need of eye contact and conversation. Besides me, she might not get to talk to anyone else for the rest of the day. I spoke with her for a few more minutes as her groceries were being checked out, and then we parted ways. I prayed for her and thought about the encounter on the way home. Our conversation had blessed her, but I realized that it had also blessed me.

In focusing on my own agenda and my own self-consciousness about my state of disarray, I had almost missed a divine moment. The thing is, I probably miss them all the time. I’ll admit, I’m often distracted, thinking about other things, or looking at my phone. Then, sometimes, the Lord nudges me out of my own musings into an unexpected blessing.

Isn’t He merciful? He blesses us and equips us for every encounter He brings our way.

The encounter in the grocery store did not require an extensive resume of skill. Apparently, it didn’t even require great hygiene. It required time, eye contact, and the willingness to be present, even for a few moments. However, other opportunities the Lord brings our way may take more time, skill, and work. Regardless, the verse above promises that He blesses us abundantly and will, at all times, give us what we need to abound in the good works He has called us to do. Now, that is a reassuring promise!

Pause: Take a deep breath and find a comfortable position. Read over 2 Corinthians 9:8 (above) a few times. Maybe even read it aloud. What stands out to you about that verse?

Renew: Take a few moments to reflect on a time in your life that the Lord presented you with an opportunity, small or large, that turned out to be an unexpected blessing. How did He equip you and bless you through that opportunity?

Next: As you go throughout your day, pray that the Lord would give you eyes to see opportunities and blessings. Then, wait to see what happens as your day progresses. Write down any stories that unfold throughout the day.

May we have eyes to see the Lord’s unexpected blessings in our lives!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Why Start a Podcast?

I’ll admit, starting a podcast is a unique and time-intensive hobby. Podcasting is not for the weak of heart. It requires time and commitment: time to line up interviews, time to sit down and record, time to edit content, time to write and publish show notes, and time to advertise and promote on social media. It is logical then to assume that there must be some underlying reason for pursuing this endeavor.

There certainly is! In fact, Pause, Renew, Next is in some ways like a “burning fire shut up in my bones.” I feel an inexplicable compulsion to pursue it. With that being stated, let me explain my vision and intention in producing the Pause, Renew, Next Podcast.

In my blog, I focus on three elements, for which PRN is named: Pause, Renew, Next.

  • Pause – pausing to allow our brains to be still and quiet from the constant outside noise and demands
  • Renew – spending time with the Lord, allowing His Word to transform and renew our minds
  • Next – putting our faith, knowledge, and transformation into action

There are certainly elements of all three of those themes in the podcast as well, but in the podcast I focus on them from the perspective of soul care and stories of faith. Here’s why:

As a counselor, I am privileged to sit with and hold people’s stories. I recognize that it is a gift to be entrusted with the elements of people’s lives, stories, thoughts, and faith journeys. (There’s something about the confidentiality of counseling that breeds trust and vulnerability!) Many of the stories I have been privileged to hear in my counseling office have been an encouragement to me as a listener.

In churches, in families, and in communities we can also benefit from sharing our faith stories with one another. Hearing other people’s struggles, questions, and faith journeys can help bolster us in our own walk with the Lord. It allows us to be more transparent about our weaknesses and doubts, knowing that we’re not alone. Unfortunately, not everyone is in a space where they feel safe or brave enough to share their own faith stories.

Through this podcast, I am thankful to be able to give a platform for Godly women to share their stories. Although each guest covers a different topic, there is a commonality that runs through each interview: vulnerability, passion, honesty, and a desire to share what the Lord is teaching them personally. There’s something about a real-life story that cuts through the “shoulds” and the shame that we could be doing better, to realize that we’re all humans doing the messy and hard work of this journey called faith.

Sure, there are other podcasts available in which women are able to share their stories. In fact, I listen to and enjoy some of those podcasts regularly myself. What sets PRN apart is that the women on this podcast are not necessarily well known or famous. Most of my guests have never and will never write a book or go on a speaking circuit, yet their knowledge and experience is just as valid as those who do have a more well-known platform from which to speak.

So, what is my vision for the PRN Podcast?

  1. To encourage those who are running the race of faith. The gate and path to Life is narrow. The journey requires endurance. Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and die to self, and that is hard work. Sometimes the race involves suffering, and we find ourselves no longer sprinting but limping instead. Hearing from others who are also running the race can be just the breath of fresh air we need to keep up our pace.
  2. To promote the importance of soul care. In our fast-paced society, we rarely take the time to care for our bodies and brains. Forget the soul – we’re just trying to survive! By implementing the practice of pausing, renewing, and applying our faith into a “next” step of action, we are taking time to care for all of the layers of the self: body, relationships, mind, and spirit.

To all of you who have supported PRN verbally or through social media, have been a guest on the podcast, have rated it on iTunes, given a positive review, or spread the word by sharing with others – Thank you! I so appreciate each and every one of you.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus!

Pause, Renew, Next!

A Reluctant Servant

I am a big picture idealist. Reality and details drag me down. This makes it difficult for me to muddle through mundane tasks and focus on seemingly meaningless work, such as loading the dishwasher, folding laundry, or cleaning the bathroom sink. Sure, I know those tasks need to be done, but they just feel like drudgery. Contrast that with comforting someone who is hurting, recording a podcast, or getting together for a Bible study. These options feel much more meaningful to me and worthy of my time and attention.

There is a lie that our culture believes, and often I struggle not to believe it myself: follow your dreams and passions, for this will bring you happiness. Although there is much to be said for working hard for your dreams and knowing what you are passionate about, these things do not guarantee happiness. What about all of the moments spent doing the hard things? Or moments that seem insignificant altogether? Sometimes worship happens in the mundane moments. These moments too can bring joy, but they are not always accompanied by an emotional high.

For example, a few years ago, I remember enjoying a sweet moment of worship while driving down the road. Overcome with emotion, I lifted my hand and belted out the words to a worship song. Oh, my heart swelled with love for God. It was at that exact moment, that a child called to me from the backseat.

“What do you need?!! I was worshiping!,” came my impatient reply.

Wow. I felt convicted on the spot. What message was I sending my child? Would Jesus have said that? No way. He was willing to be available and to meet the needs of others even when it felt mundane. Even when he probably would have rather been communing with His Father. In fact, it seems to me that much of His worship was humbling himself and serving, in obedience to His Father. Obedience and service can be acts of worship too.

Obedience. Servitude. Those are not words that bring up heartwarming emotions, yet with these elements God brought His Kingdom to earth.

With which attitude will I perform the mundane tasks of life: begrudgingly or with humility?

In this season of life, I am learning that each moment, each action, each inaction, can be an act of worship. Reluctantly, I’m reminded that servitude can be a piece of that too. Motherhood for instance, is the largest act of servitude I have ever before experienced. Much of it is filled with mundane tasks – reading the same book, brushing the same little teeth, filling the same dishwasher over and over and over and over. These tasks must be done. The question is, with which attitude will I complete them? My natural attitude is to do them begrudgingly, but I have the option to do them with humility instead, as an act of love to my family and God.

Of this, I will need to be reminded minute by minute. (No really, each minute.) Every moment has an opportunity to help build His Kingdom here on earth. Every moment counts…even the mundane ones.

Pause: Take a moment to quiet your spirit. Take a deep belly breath and exhale. When you feel settled, read Philippians 2:1-11. What do you take away from this passage about servitude, humility, obedience, and worship?

Renew: In what areas do worship and service come easily for you? Which parts of life feel more like drudgery? Ask the Lord to change your attitude and see those acts with a fresh perspective.

Next: Over the coming week, be aware of your attitude towards the people and tasks in your life. Find moments to give thanks for each, and consider how each might glorify God and benefit His Kingdom.

May we see each moment as a gift!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Solidarity, Sisters!

Parenting four boys means being surrounded by noise, energy, dirt, gas, burps, noise, physical activity, video games, toys, noise, competition, bugs, frogs, oh, and did I mention noise? That is the beautiful and chaotic motherhood life that I have been given. Many times I have wished for girls, but I quickly settle back into gratitude for the small tribe of males the Lord has loaned my husband and I. We are raising men for His Kingdom.

My main parenting struggle enters with the whole “raising” scenario. Who knew that training and parenting children could be so draining? Motherhood didn’t come with an “off” switch. There is only a recharging session while they sleep.

The constancy and exhaustion of raising small humans is the context in which I want to share a story which occurred this week. As a family, we decided to take an impromptu road trip for a few days. It was fun to take off on a mostly unplanned trip: four days carved out to adventure together. We visited state parks and a science museum, went on a cave tour, and even happened upon a fair. We made fun memories as a family, and for that I am very grateful.

This is a real-life picture of motherhood with four boys!

During our trip, we stayed in a hotel. As one might imagine, trying to sleep in one big room was not conducive to falling asleep each night. The boys wanted to talk, joke, touch each other, throw stuffed animals at each other, and generally keep each other awake. Our early-rising child woke everyone up before daybreak each morning. Additionally, the boys seemed blissfully unaware of their volume or how that volume might affect the people staying on either side of us.

The last morning of our trip, I felt particularly annoyed with their loud behavior. It didn’t seem to matter that I had politely, then kindly, then firmly told them to tone it down. The volume continued. I sat them down and had a stern “talk” with them about how their behavior might be affecting the other people in the hotel and how they needed to behave when we went down for breakfast. They all solemnly nodded and did their best to contain their energy all the way down the hall and into the elevator.

When we got to the continental breakfast, I spent 10 minutes pouring juice, finding seating, getting utensils and condiments, and situating the boys before I could eat my own meal. Finally, I sat down with my food and coffee and looked up at my husband. He casually stated, “I don’t think you’re the only one who is struggling with parenting this morning.” He glanced to his right, and my gaze followed his. There stood a mom with three elementary-aged children. She was refilling plates, getting utensils, answering questions, admonishing her children’s behavior, and looking incredibly exhausted. I observed her over the following moments. Unlike myself, she was there without a husband. Although I saw her take a few deep breaths in her obvious frustration, she maintained calm for her kids, finishing the meal, and finally blissfully, took a sip of her coffee.

I passed her while refilling my coffee cup. Quietly, I touched her on the shoulder and declared, “Mom solidarity! You are doing a really good job.”

She blinked at me in surprise and then smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Each mother has been given a different set up: unique children with unique personalities. Some of us are married and some are single. Some of us have girls, and some of us have boys. Some of us have one child, and some of us have eight. What remains the same is the load of blessings and exhaustion that come with the motherhood journey. Some days are great, and others are really hard. Sweet moments of cuddles and kisses are often followed by a sibling fight and spilled milk. If you have lived serving those who can not yet serve themselves, then you are a member of a tribe of women who are changing the world one day at a time. Knowing this, we can have compassion for others we see in the trenches.

We all worry that we’re messing up, and mom guilt is the worst! It feels incredibly reassuring when someone else “gets it.” After seeing my son have an utter meltdown one day last year, I received a text from a mom friend of mine telling me what a good mother I was for my son. It only took her a moment, but the message I received was: “You’re not alone. I see what you’re doing. You’re not screwing this up. Keep up the good work.”

As helpful as it is to be encouraged by other moms, it is even more reassuring to know that the Lord has grace for us mothers as well. One of the verses that has encouraged me most in mothering is:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Isaiah 40:11

Picturing the Lord as my shepherd is a comforting image. That last line though, just about undoes me: He “gently leads those that are with young.”

God doesn’t run ahead without us mothers. He doesn’t even wait for us to keep up with His plans. He leads us. He leads us gently. He knows that we are not equipped to do this job perfectly. He knows what it costs us. He knows the joys and the tears, and He promises to gently lead us.

What a relief! I can trust that as I follow my Shepherd, He will lead me as I lead my children. They will follow my voice as I follow His. Then, by His grace, they will one day know His voice and follow Him for themselves. I am not in this motherhood thing alone.

In the meantime: Solidarity, sisters. The road is tiring, but it is good work we are doing. The best work.

Pause: Find a moment to be still. (In the bathroom with the door locked if need be.) Breathe deeply, and exhale slowly. Read and meditate on Isaiah 40:11.

Renew: What images come to your mind as you read this verse? If you are a mother, reflect on times that you can bear witness to how the Lord led you in your motherhood journey.

Next: This week, ask the Lord to bring a Mom in your life to mind. As the Lord brings this person to your mind, pray for her. Then, make it a point to speak encouragement to her or give her a gift that reminds her that she is seen and appreciated.

May we be reminded of our Good Shepherd’s faithfulness and gentleness in leading us.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Desperate Bandits

Last weekend, our family embarked on a camping adventure together. I am labeling it an “adventure,” because we chose to camp on Cumberland Island, a National Park in Georgia that can only be reached by ferry. Taking enough supplies and food for two adults and four boys onto an island to camp for 3 days in the heat of summer is definitely the epitome of adventure.

Cumberland Island is a wilderness full of beauty and nature. The beaches are virtually deserted. Wildlife is abundant! Wild horses and deer roam the island. Egrets and herons can be seen walking through the marshlands. Sea turtles nest along the beaches. It really is picturesque.

Unfortunately, some of the wildlife is a little more interactive. Wild raccoons also roam the island and make themselves at home in the campground, waiting for any morsel of food to claim. We were visited by our first raccoon two hours into the trip. We heard rustling in the bushes and saw beady eyes looking at us, as he sneaked around our campsite, checking out our wares. We put most of our food into a latched food box provided for the very purpose of keeping food safe from raccoons. We hung our trash from a tall pole, and tied up our cooler with bungee cords. We were prepared.

The second day, we discovered that the raccoons could climb poles. Our trash was torn open from the bottom. Later that afternoon, we found that a bag of food inside the food box had been torn open through the wire mesh holes on the outside of the box. I found pieces of shredded bags and oatmeal cookie crumbs all over the ground. We adapted and started putting all of our food as close to the middle of the box as possible. We also started putting our trash inside the box to to keep it safe.

One night, as we got ready for bed, I peeked out of our tent and saw a raccoon digging in our fire pit…which was still aflame. He was managing to pull out charred scraps of food we had thrown into the fire after dinner. In order to do this, he was sticking his paws into the fire to pull out salvageable scraps. Talk about desperate!

Caught red handed!

No wonder raccoons are called bandits! They will not stop at anything to get what they want. Even when it seems desperate. Even when their objective is a burned scrap of food.

But maybe humans aren’t so different. We have needs too, and if we can’t get our needs met in direct and healthy ways we often find more desperate means to get them met instead. Usually, in the United States, we don’t have to work so hard for food, but we may find ourselves desperate in other ways.

Connection: When we don’t have healthy, caring relationships, we will find other ways to get the need for connection met: toxic relationships, gangs, social media, online gaming, codependency, pornography….the list could go on and on.

Recognition: We all have a desire to be affirmed, validated, and recognized for who we are and what we contribute. When we don’t receive this feedback from those we love and respect, we might seek it in other ways: social media, an unhealthy drive for success and perfection, seeking out inappropriate attention from the opposite sex, workaholism, etc.

Security: All of us have a built in desire for both physical and emotional security. When we feel this sense of security is threatened in some way, we can put too much emphasis on things that will seemingly provide for us: a good job and benefits, a large savings accounts, great health or life insurance, the perfect relationship, etc.

There are so many areas where this could apply. Desperation causes us to make choices we would not make under other circumstances, and it’s never a fun place to be. It’s not fun for raccoons, who burn their paws to earn a charred morsel, and it’s certainly not enjoyable for humans who were given a God-ordained soul and an innate need for connection.

Pause: Take a deep breath and find a comfortable place to sit. Think about a time in your life that you may have felt desperate to have a need met in your life. How did you go about trying to meet that need? What are other, more healthy ways that you could have gone about it?

Renew: Think about, journal, and pray about how the Lord has provided for you in your life. How has he provided for your relationship and security needs?

Next: Beginning to make healthier choices means becoming more aware of our own needs and tendencies. Start paying attention to your own needs and work on finding ways of communicating those needs to others in your close circles of relationships.

May we not settle for scraps, when God has designed us for fellowship with his saints and with His Spirit!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Anchoring Our Eyes

Have you ever observed a toddler throwing a tantrum, or an adolescent having a meltdown? If so, you can probably attest to the fact that the child had wild eyes throughout the meltdown. When our bodies are under stress and undergo the fight or flight response, our senses are heightened. This affects the eyes, as they are preparing to take in any important visual cues.

For the most part, this response is beneficial. Imagine you are walking to your car late at night in a dark parking lot. Your pupils will be dilated, taking in as much light as they can to help you see better. Chances are your eyes will also be scanning the alley, checking for signs of danger. This is a helpful response, as it helps to keep you safe.

What if, however, you are in a crowded restaurant, trying to enjoy dinner with your family, but the crowds and noise are making you anxious. You find it hard to concentrate on the conversation at your table. Instead, you find yourself looking around the restaurant restlessly, scanning the room. In this case, you are not in danger, and your eyes are doing you a disservice by keeping you from focusing on the loved ones at your table.

Anchoring can help our bodies and brains calm down.

Because processing visual stimuli takes a lot of mental energy, one way that we can help our brains and bodies calm down in moments of high arousal or stress is to block out some of the distracting visual stimuli. There are two main ways to do this:

  • The first is to close our eyes. It’s amazing what a difference closing our eyes can make to our inner state. We are taught to pray with our eyes closed, and in this way we can focus inward, rather than paying attention to what is going on around us.
  • The second is a tool called visual anchoring, which is choosing a neutral object to stare at for a short period of time. Using the restaurant example, this might be the menu or a saltshaker at the table. This gives time to refocus the mind and body while purposely keeping the eyes from scanning. This tool is even more effective when paired with deep breathing.

Interestingly, this same anchoring principle can be found in Scripture. In Matthew 14, we find the disciples in a boat, in the middle of the night, being approached by a ghostly form walking on the water. Jesus reassures His disciples that it’s just Him, but, being overwhelmed and terrified, the disciples find it hard to believe. The ever brave and impulsive Peter quickly devises a scheme to test the validity of Jesus’ claim. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” Jesus replied.

Good enough for Peter, he jumps out of the boat and begins walking toward Jesus. We can imagine at this point that he has anchored his vision onto the Savior. Then, he becomes aware of the wind and fear takes over. I can only imagine his stress response system kicking in as he begins to sink. “Lord, save me,” he cried.

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:31 ESV

Just that quickly, Peter was safe.

When we are in danger, our bodies are designed to serve us well, protecting us from danger and rising to challenges. Our eyes are designed to take in more light and scan for danger when we are under stress. Remember that ultimately our fear response can be overridden with calming tools such as visual anchoring. Even more importantly, we can remember that we have a Savior who will never leave us or forsake us, even when it feels like we’re drowning.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale. Now would be a great time to practice your new anchoring tool by closing your eyes or fixing your eyes on a neutral object for 20 to 30 seconds. When you feel calm and ready, read Matthew 14: 22 – 33.

Renew: Think about a time in the last month that you felt overwhelmed. What was the trigger that caused you to feel overwhelmed? What helped you to feel more calm?

Next: Both in a spiritual as well as in a physical sense, think about how you can use anchoring the next time you’re feeling stressed or afraid.

May we anchor our eyes on the One who can save us from the wind and waves of life!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Seen and Unseen

One evening, while wandering the perimeter of our property, my husband and I enjoyed a few moments of quiet conversation together. With four boys, moments of relative quiet are to be savored, and I was doing just that. Suddenly, my husband pulled out his phone and pointed it at the sky. “What are you doing?,” I asked, surprised that in the midst of a conversation he could be so easily distracted. “I’m checking for planets with this app on my phone,” he replied. “Look, it will show you the planets and stars in orbit.” He passed me the phone, and I looked for myself. Sure enough, with the help of the app, we found Mars and Jupiter in the night sky.

Seen and Unseen: visions in the night sky

As often happens, my mind takes everyday occurrences and turns them into spiritual or relational metaphors. This instance was no different. It occurred to me that those planets and stars had been present throughout the day, but had remained unseen. Why? Because the Sun, our planet’s favorite star, shines so brightly, it blinds us to the presence of the others. It’s only when the Sun sets, and we can peer into the dark corridors of space, that we are able to see far-off stars and planets.

In II Corinthians 4, Paul writes about the perspective of what is seen and what is unseen in relation to suffering. He encourages his readers to look not at what is seen, but at what is unseen. He does not deny that suffering exists, or wish it away with platitudes of faith. What he does do, is put it into perspective declaring that these “light and momentary trials are working for us an eternal weight of glory.” He closes the chapter challenging his readers to “fix their eyes” on what is unseen, because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I relate to this analogy personally. In this season of my life, I am struggling to make sense of and hold onto truth while coming to terms with physical conditions that are worsening over time. Will I choose to hold onto what is “seen” or what is “unseen” about the situation? Certainly, both are real factors. I cannot wish away the facts. I have to learn to live with and manage what is “seen” about the situation.

Still, in Christ, I know that behind the scenes, much more is at work. Even if I never know the entirety of the story this side of heaven, I can remind myself that these days of discomfort are just “light and momentary.” What is unseen by the eye, but perceived by the Spirit is an “eternal weight of glory” at the end of the race.

Just as the Sun shines brightly through the day lighting up all that we see, we can know with the same surety that at night, through darkness, stars will shine. Darkness, or the “unseen,” is where we grow in faith most, learning the art of hope, and clinging more closely to the promises of Scripture.

II Corinthians 4:18

Pause: Breathe in. Breathe out. Read II Corinthians 4 and meditate on any verses that resonate with you in this chapter.

Renew: As you think about your own life, is there a trial or struggle that you can relate to in reading this chapter? What about the situation or trial is seen and temporary? What might be unseen and eternal?

Next: Pray this week that the Lord would give you renewed perspective about this situation. Ask Him to help you fix your eyes on what is unseen and eternal.

May we be renewed day by day, and have eyes to see with eternal perspective!

Pause, Renew, Next!