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Category: Blog (Page 1 of 9)

Layers of Healing

Sometimes I think and write in layers. Please indulge me while I take you on a journey down three layers of a story.

Layer one: We have been battling fleas all summer. First, we noticed the problem with our cat. She received a flea treatment at the vet, but we still couldn’t seem to get a handle on our household flea problem. We tried to treat our dog, Dash, at home using organic products, followed by a flea shampoo, followed by a flea collar. All of it was to no avail. He scratched on. Finally, I noticed that he was developing bare patches on his hind quarters, and I scheduled a vet appointment.

I put off taking him to the vet, because his first trip to the vet as a puppy did not go well. He hid in every corner, under every piece of furniture he could find, and made a puddle on the waiting room floor. The vet kindly encouraged us to “socialize” him so that he would be less anxious in public spaces.

We apparently failed at this endeavor, because his second vet trip was not much better than the first. When he realized that we were going to put him in the truck, he decided that absolutely would not happen. We pulled on his leash and encouraged him, but it was no use. His strategy was to make himself like a pile of concrete: flat and heavy on the ground. Finally, my oldest son just picked him up and placed him in the back of the truck. Like a stubborn toddler, he made his body go rigid and wouldn’t sit down. We repositioned him the best we could and shut the door.

Our playful and loyal pup, Dash

All the way there, we petted him and spoke gently to him. Our trip into the vet’s office was much like the endeavor of trying to get him in the truck. A little pulling, a little encouraging, and then finally picking him up at times to get him into the areas he needed to go.

If only I could speak dog language. “Buddy,” I would say, “Don’t you know that we want to help you? You will feel so much better when you get some medicine. The vet is here to help you, not to hurt you.” From his perspective though, we were taking him out of his comfort zone, in a strange vehicle, to a strange place, to a man who poked him with a needle. I’m sure it didn’t seem very helpful.

Sometimes the way towards healing is uncomfortable.

Layer 2: As a counselor, I encounter a similar theme. Often, when meeting with a new client, I hear a familiar refrain that goes something like this: “It was hard for me to make an appointment. I like to be independent and try not to need others. It feels like weakness to need therapy.”

Oh, this could not be a more American idea. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make life happen.” Successful people are independent. Depending on others is a sign of weakness.

This, plain and simple, is a lie. We are built, by our Creator, for community. We were never mean to be alone or to do life alone. Asking for help takes humility, and it can be scary, but it is almost always the way towards true healing.

Like Dash, sometimes it takes an injury or a nudge from someone we love to get us out of our comfort zone and on the healing journey.

Layer 3: This summer I’ve been reading through the Gospels, and what stands out to me is how many people Jesus healed. He did teach and preach, but consistently he was seeking out and being sought out to perform healings. He healed people from blindness, leprosy, paralysis, bleeding disorders, shriveled hands, and even from demonic possession. These miracles in and of themselves were enough to draw people to him, but that wasn’t the entirety of his purpose. He desired to heal their souls.

Jesus didn’t heal those who thought they had it all together. No, he found the ones who knew they couldn’t get better on their own. He loved the down and out. The outcasts. The poor in spirit. Those who needed help.

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:17 CSB

Like those going to therapy for the first time, most of us find it uncomfortable to seek help. It’s extremely vulnerable and humbling to admit we are struggling. Like my dog Dash, sometimes we may not even know the extent of our own injuries and how much we really need intervention.

So, yes, this blog is a PSA for doctors, vets, and therapists. If you need an intervention, please go seek help. Even more than that though, I want to remind you that there is a Savior always ready to come to your rescue. He delights to save and care for His own. You can call on him anytime, anywhere. In God’s kingdom, humility and confession are not marks of shame, but symbols of righteousness.

Independence should not be our goal. Dependence on Christ is where real freedom and healing is found.

May you have the courage to ask Him for what you need.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Summer Slow-Down

Let me share with you how God abundantly showered me with a good and unexpected gift this week. It was the gift I most needed in this particular season: an unhurried and free schedule. He gifted me the kind of week that summer dreams are made of.

Now, let me share with you how this summer has been progressing up to now and what my week was supposed to look like, and I think you’ll understand why I’m overjoyed with such a gift.

My ideal summer vacation would be filled with unhurried days, hours working in my garden, occasional field trips with my kids, planning a few play dates with friends, and scheduling some road trips on weekends. As our summer unfolded, this is what I envisioned.

Then, as I always seem to do, I started scheduling.

Some of the scheduling was necessary. For instance, my kids needed swimming lessons. My oldest son needed to start drivers-ed classes. They all needed doctor and dentist check-ups. These are the normal items of Mom to-do lists.

Of course, even in summer, I work part-time. I enjoy my work, but with my kids out of school, balancing my husband’s and my work schedules becomes a little hectic and gives us less time together.

Sometimes we need a reason to slow down.

Also, as an Enneagram 2, when I would slow down for a few minutes, I would begin thinking of all the people we haven’t seen lately. I’d find myself making lists in my head of the people I need to check in with, the people I need to schedule play dates with, and the get-togethers I promised would happen that I haven’t yet pulled together. In some ways, being a people person is a blessing. The problem is, once I’ve started contacting people, I don’t leave myself enough time for slow-living, summer days with my children.

Without rest and sufficient down-time, coupled with having four boys in the house keeping the noise level at a constant and sometimes ferocious roar, my stress barometer has been climbing. Without question, I know I have been irritable, consistently feeling like an unkind and exhausted version of the self I once knew. (For you Enneagram fans, 2’s go to 8 in stress. I have definitely been camping out in 8 land!)

To top the building stress off, I was scheduled for jury duty this week, followed by an extremely busy weekend. As I frantically tried to do laundry, clean the kitchen, and prepare for a week away, I had absolutely no grace for the antics of my children, who were not at all on their best behavior yesterday.

Then, last evening, I remembered to call and check in for jury duty and was surprised to hear the words announcing on the other end of the line: “Your services are not needed for the week of June 29.”

Ahh…what a relief.

In preparation for jury duty, I took off work and scheduled no appointments or get-togethers this week. Now, with jury duty cancelled, I realized that I was officially on vacation.

As the news sunk in, I thanked God that He knew exactly what I needed. Apparently, it took scheduling jury duty for me to get a break. A break I didn’t (or wouldn’t) schedule for myself. Now, I am intentionally choosing to set these days apart for things I have wanted to do, but just haven’t had the time to make a priority.

Additionally, I noticed as my schedule cleared that when I wasn’t stretched beyond my bandwidth, I felt myself able to offer more grace again to my children.

I physically felt the relief in my body. That’s saying something.

What about you, friend? As you check in on your own soul-care, how much are you accounting for a hurried and full pace of life? Which of those scheduled items can you let go of this summer to give yourself more bandwidth? I hope the Lord opens up good gifts in the form of rest and slow-living opportunities for you, too.

Yes, I preach soul-care, but I will humbly admit that I often struggle to practice it myself. I’m also self-aware enough to know that I have not yet learned my lesson. Overscheduling will continue to be a struggle for me as I find confidence in knowing “what is mine to do,” as Suzanne Stabile often says. Still, while I’m learning my lessons, I’m thankful for a God who steps in to give me opportunities I couldn’t give myself. It is a luxury I won’t take for granted.

Pause, Renew, Next!

When Grace Overflows

I’m not proud to admit it, but apparently I underestimated my child’s ability.

Swimming lessons started this week. Due to fear of water on their part, laziness on my part, and a pandemic that put us behind a year, this Mom was late in putting my two youngest in swimming lessons. I pulled up the information on the classes offered at the YMCA, but I had no clue which class was most appropriate for their swimming abilities. So, I took a shot in the dark and placed them both in the same class. (Saves on driving, right?)

I was wrong about both of their skill levels.

Swimming lessons!

Surprising both me and his swimming teacher, one of my children could do laps back and forth in the pool. His teacher pulled him aside after the first lesson and told him he qualified for a more advanced class. He didn’t want to move up, so she generously volunteered to spend extra time with him after class helping him hone his skills.

In contrast, my other child was not yet ready for the class I placed him in. His specialty has been clinging to the wall and trying not to swim. He does enjoy the occasional splash and face dunk though, so he’s working his courage up slowly.

I would love to say that this is the first time I’ve under or over-estimated my children, but it’s definitely not. In fact, sometimes I think parenting is like one big experiment. Our job is to train these little beings into responsible adults, but most of the time we’re still learning how to be responsible adults ourselves! No, I definitely don’t always see my children clearly for both their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a work in progress, and they continually teach me so much!

Here, I want to lovingly juxtapose my parenting abilities with that of our Heavenly Father. Listen, if ever there was someone who could rightly assess our strengths, weaknesses, faults, and abilities, it’s our Creator. He knows the inner workings of our minds, our emotions, and our motivations. Even more astoundingly, he knows all that we’re capable of, and the good works that still lie in our future. He knows it all, and he never underestimates us.

If that weren’t already the best news, there’s more! He totally never overestimates our abilities either. He knows that on our own, we can’t always make it as far as we think we can or as far as we dream we will. We just may not have the resources or skills at our disposal. He, however, has an endless supply of resources. Like the loving Father that he is, he promises to provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19). He also promises that through His grace, we will not only have our needs met but be able to excel at every good work He lays before us (II Corinthians 9:8).

And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work. 

II Corinthians 9:8 CSB

I don’t know about you, but that is REALLY good news to me today. There is some “good work” that currently lies in my path that feels way above my skill level. Truthfully, many days, even parenting feels above my skill level. Still, we’re promised that God’s grace will not just flow, but OVERFLOW, so that in every way, with everything that we need, we will not just accomplish but excel at the good work before us.

What is the good work that the Lord has laid before you, friend?

I pray that this encouragement helps you realign your own estimations of not just yourself, but of the God who goes before you in it.

Pause: Take a deep breath and allow your mind and body to be still. When you’re ready, read through II Corinthians 9. What stands out to you from this chapter? Underline or highlight any phrases or verses that resonate with you.

Renew: This chapter is not only about provision but also about gratitude and generosity. How do gratitude and generosity play a roll in the good works you are accomplishing in your life right now? Take some time to consider in what ways you can reframe your thinking through the lens of gratitude.

Next: Take time to think, journal, or reflect this week on ways that you’ve seen the Lord’s grace overflow to you. If you know that you need help outside of yourself to accomplish the good works that lay before you, pray specifically for those needs. He is faithful to listen and respond to His children.

May you rest in His grace this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Anxiety, Anger, and Transitions

The last year is one for the record books. Literally. We certainly haven’t seen anything like a global pandemic in our lifetimes, and hopefully we won’t see one again anytime soon. Considering the magnitude of the life changes and grief that many have undergone this year, the resilience we’ve individually and collectively displayed is to be commended. Many of us transitioned to working, schooling, and going to church remotely, and we did it almost seamlessly. Our entire world changed the way it does business and travel, yet most of us kept on living day to day like we’d been performing remotely our whole lives. It quickly began to feel normal. Resilience is a beautiful thing.

Adaptation and survival are a part of resilience. Our bodies and emotions, however, may be telling a different story. As the pandemic began, anxiety spiked across the world. Fear and worry were normalized, as so many people were asking the same questions: How long will we be in lockdown? How soon will the vaccines be developed? How long will I have to homeschool my children? How long will we have to wear masks? And most importantly, am I safe?

Then, as the months slid by, anxiety turned to irritability. You see, anxiety and anger are two sides of the same system: fight or flight. Anxiety often causes us to avoid and worry. It makes us feel powerless. What then is the antithesis of powerlessness?

Anger. It fuels us with the adrenaline we need to affect change. When we lost control of our lives and the powers-that-be would not give us answers quickly enough, anger began to simmer. It is frustrating to not know how to plan your life! To not be able to plan a trip, a wedding, or even a school year. It is frustrating to be trapped at home with the same people day in and day out, even if they are your favorite people.

During a perfect storm of collective anger, the United States entered the election season. We all know how that turned out. People did not come together during the pandemic but, instead, became more angry and further divided and isolated.

Enter depression. As the long months of a pandemic wore on, and powerlessness compounded, apathy began to develop. I’ve heard depression called “frozen grief,” and I think that is an accurate phrase to describe what we experienced as a society. What happens when we can’t enact control over our own lives? Eventually, when anger doesn’t work, we give in to a sense of powerlessness and lose the energy to fight. We are created for community, and months of social distancing worked to make us feel alone and isolated. Add to this short daylight hours and the dreariness of winter, and I think we can say that many of us were living with at least low-grade depression over the past few months, marked by low energy and motivation.

Finally, however, hope is blossoming. Summer is on the horizon. Vaccines have been rolled out. Mask mandates are waning. Herd immunity is a real possibility. People are transitioning back to in-person work and schooling. It seems that now we should be overjoyed about getting back our “old lives.” Why then, does it feel like a mixed bag?

I propose that actually, anxiety, irritability, and emotional dysregulation may be on the rise again. Although it seems counterintuitive, seasons of transition (even good transition) create stress. After months of living life remotely, to then be told that we can go back to the old way of doing things is a little overwhelming. How do we go back to the way things were before? Will things ever be the way they were before?

This brings me back to the theme of resilience. You may think that you’ve handled this year like a champ. You probably have. You, after all, are designed to survive. Humanity is created to be adaptive, so like a superstar you’ve managed to navigate all that was thrown at you this year. Perhaps you didn’t even stop to grieve or acknowledge your own emotions. You just did what was required of you. Survival mode may have become a way of life.

Although not all of us pay attention to our emotions, our behaviors often give us insight into our mental health. As Bessel van der Kolk famously wrote, “our bodies keep the score.” Here are some signs you may notice in yourself, or your loved ones, while navigating transition: irritability, muscle tension, racing thoughts, social anxiety, avoidance tendencies, fatigue, mood swings, low energy or motivation, or not caring about the things you used to look forward to. You may also notice an uptick in the “behaviors” of your kids. They don’t have words for it, but their bodies feel the stress of change as well.

This is not a diagnostic blog entry. I don’t propose to have all of the answers. I do, however, want to encourage us all to pay more attention to what our bodies and our behavior are telling us. I also want to encourage us all to offer grace widely right now…to ourselves first and then to others. It’s impossible to offer grace when we can’t even acknowledge that we need it. And boy, do we need it.

A part of offering grace to ourselves is cultivating our own soul-care. What do you need during this transition time? Take time to think it through and make space and time to care for yourself intentionally. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Seek out a professional to help you process your thoughts and feelings. Therapy is not a sign of weakness. It is incredibly courageous to seek support.
  • Cultivate time and space in your routine for stillness and renewal.
  • Find physical outlets for your stress. It doesn’t have to be a gym membership. Walking, swimming, yoga, gardening, or dancing are all great movement ideas.
  • Engage in a hobby. Creativity and play are the substance of growth.
  • Prioritize healthy relationships in your life. Make intentional time to get together with friends, family, or neighbors, particularly those who are life giving.
  • Seek spiritual connection. Spend time in God’s Word. Listen to praise music. Talk with God and share your heart with him.
  • Find ways to serve others. Although it is counterintuitive when feeling down, reaching out to others in need can help us shift our internal narrative and focus.

More than anything, I want you to know that you’re not alone. There’s no prescription or self-help book for how to thrive and live your best life through a pandemic. We’re all just figuring it out one breath at a time. It is okay to be human. We’ve been given grace for that.

May we allow the Lord to cultivate His grace in us day by day.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Mind Full or Mindful?

Occasionally, I like to play a game with my youngest son. This is a game I pull out when we need a distraction, when his potty talk has hit its limit, or when we’re on a walk and he’s getting tired. I’ll say to him, “Let’s play: what do you hear?” Then I fall silent and let him start listening.

Almost immediately, he gets quiet and observes his surroundings. We start naming the sounds around us: birds chirping, dogs barking, a distant motorcycle, or the wind in the trees.

These sounds are around us all the time, but generally we tune them out or cover them up with our own noises: cellphones, podcasts, radio, Netflix, or the internal static of our own minds.

I don’t know about you, but I can attest to having a full mind. For most of my life I have prided myself on my multi-tasking skills, but lately I find these skills to be lagging. I am growing weary with the constant barrage of noise and clamor around me and within my own head. After a year of collective trauma due to a pandemic and more time spent online than ever before, I think most of us can attest to having full minds and perhaps racing thoughts.

It can be difficult to slow down and be aware of the present moment.

Mindfulness

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations,

Mindfulness has taken the therapeutic world by storm over the last decade. The benefits are vast: from relaxation, to greater awareness, to focusing attention, to greater health and mental wellness. Yet, focusing on the present moment does not come easily or naturally in a culture permeated by noise. It takes intentionality.

For Mother’s Day, at my request, my family took me hiking for the day. We packed a picnic and ate on a rock outcropping, overlooking a river and waterfall. Next to our picnic spot, the evidence of a previous visitor remained: a perfectly stacked pile of rocks. It’s clear that in nature, rocks do not naturally end up in such an orderly formation. No, this was the work of an individual with intentionality and creativity.

In the same way, practicing mindfulness takes intentionality and creativity. It takes intentionality, because it’s always easier to pick up our phones and be entertained than it is to pay attention to and fully engage the world around us. There is no end to the distractions available at our fingertips. Choosing to focus our attention on the present moment almost always takes intentionality.

Mindfulness also utilizes creativity and curiosity. Our brains absolutely thrive on novelty. We are curious creatures who love learning. In the same way I played a game with my son, we can engage our curiosity and ask ourselves: what do I notice in this present moment? Using our senses helps us stay grounded to the present. What do I see? What do I hear? What do I smell? What do I feel?

Anxiety always takes our brains into future scenarios, but by practicing mindfulness we can bring ourselves back to the reality and safety of the present.

When we are fully engaged in the present, we can practice gratitude for what we have: right here, right now. What are the good and perfect gifts you’ve been given in this moment? Perhaps it’s the giggle of a child in the next room, the way the light is streaming in the window, or the comfort of a warm cup of coffee.

It’s in these moments as we slow down that we are most likely to notice the presence of Christ.

A moment of caution before I end. Truthfully, as much as you may try to focus, your brain will inevitably wander off down a rabbit trail of thought. This is only natural, and it does not make you a failure at practicing mindfulness. Especially these days with our multi-tasking, Instagram-scrolling, channel-flipping attention spans at an all-time low, don’t expect the practice of mindfulness to be an easy-won task. No, intentionality is the ticket. When you notice that your thinking has drifted, gently bring it back again. Like a new driver, your brain is being trained to stay on the road. The more you practice, the longer you can do it, and the better at it you will become.

If you’d like to practice mindfulness now, follow along with the below exercise:

Pause: Inhale deeply and slowly exhale. As discussed above, take a moment to pay attention to what is going on around you. Name what you’re touching, what you hear, what you see, and what you smell. For example: I can feel the sturdy wood chair beneath me, I can hear the ticking of the clock in the next room, etc.

Renew: Now that you’ve taken time to ground yourself in the present moment externally, let’s do the same internally. What is going on inside of you right now? What bodily sensations do you feel? What are you thinking? What emotions are you experiencing? Mindfulness is about focusing our attention on these items, but all without judgment. That last part is the most difficult of all. For instance, you may find that you’re feeling angry or embarrassed. Rather than judging yourself for feeling that way, simply name the emotion or thought for what it is and move on. It’s not good or bad, it just is.

Next: Take another deep inhale and exhale slowly. You just took time to look outward and inward. If you have the time, this may be a great moment to spend in prayer or to make a gratitude list. If you don’t have the time, you can move on with your day. Congratulations! You just took time to intentionally pause and practice mindfulness, and your body, mind, and soul thank you.

May you give yourself permission to slow down and be present in the life you lead.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Being The Soil

Parenting has come with unique challenges for which I often feel unprepared. I don’t know what I expected raising children would be like, but I certainly did not anticipate many of the scenarios I’ve found myself in over the years. I grew up with one sister. One very compliant, easy to get along with sister. Then, the Lord saw fit to give me a house full of boys, all with strong personalities. Our house is anything but quiet, calm, and compliant!

With that as a backdrop, I’d love to share something the Lord taught me a few years ago. It was an encouraging and perspective-shifting message that I have needed to refer back to many times over the years. I’ve found myself reflecting back on it again after some recent parenting challenges.

On a drive home from work one day years ago, I was spending time in prayer. I find that talking with Jesus and driving go hand in hand! On this particular day I had the van to myself, and I spoke out loud, listing specific requests about my oldest child. I remember asking God to use my son’s strong will and turn him into a fine leader one day. I was on a roll, when right in the middle of my talking the Lord gently and firmly interrupted me.

Does that ever happen to you? Just like the verbal processor that I am, sometimes the Lord has to interrupt me to get a word in edgewise. This is one of the ways I know He’s speaking to me. I wouldn’t be able to interrupt myself!

In a way that only He can, the Lord gave me a picture in my mind of a plant growing in the soil. All in a flash, I knew deep in my spirit what He was telling me. He impressed on my heart that I was the soil that my children were growing in. That was my job, to be the soil. To be safe, fertile ground where they could begin to be rooted and grow into who He created them to be. I also felt His kind reprimand that it was not up to me to decide who they would grow to be. He would be the sun and the rain for them, causing them to grow in His timing and to His purposes. My job was just to be the soil.

Wow!

Believe me, I did not come up with that on my own. Experiences like this with the Lord just floor me sometimes. As if to confirm it, a few months later the staff at the counseling center where I work read the book The Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson. We each took a chapter to lead a discussion about in staff meeting. I was assigned the chapter on attachment, and don’t you know, the exact analogy Curt Thompson used to talk about attachment was becoming safe soil in which our children can grow.

Wow, again!

Being the soil is not an action. Rather, it’s a posture of letting go of control. It’s creating a safe place in which my children can grow. It’s providing for their needs, and then watching the Lord do His good work in their lives.

It sounds so freeing and easy. However, over the years as parenting has put me in hard positions when I wished for an instruction manual, I have cried out to God, “What does being the soil really mean? Like, right here and now?” I wish in those moments that He would swoop in and do the disciplining for me!

Still, I am finding that just like He is forming my children, He is forming me through the process of parenting. Becoming good soil is a process too. We are always in process this side of heaven. Parents and children alike need grace.

This week, I found myself sharing this story with a couple of my friends as we met together for Bible study. I confessed a parenting dilemma I found myself in, and as a friend prayed over me, she said, “Lord, till the soil of Ginny’s heart.”

Oh, as she spoke the words, I felt my chest open up inside. I could picture Jesus turning over the compact soil of anger and shame, giving my heart room to breathe, and preparing it to be better growing space.

So, friends, if you too find yourself in a difficult season of parenting, take heart. There is enough grace to cover you and your children. Through Jesus, growth always yields a beautiful harvest.

May we allow ourselves to be freshly tilled soil.

Pause, Renew, Next: Take a deep belly breath, and allow yourself to relax. How is it freeing to think about God being the one who causes your children to thrive, rather than feeling that the full responsibility rests on your shoulders? This week, I encourage you to pray, reflect, and journal about how to be good soil for the children the Lord has placed in your home, offering gratitude for the way the Lord cares for both you and your children.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Gas Fill-ups and Gratitude

My oldest son and I sit in the van, biding time and creeping forward. It’s 3:14, and the school bell will soon ring, releasing my three youngest boys from their school day. Here we sit, just like we do every Monday, waiting in the school pick-up line. I glance at my dash board and see that I have made an error in judgment. I should have stopped for gas on my way here. The van is not yet on empty, but it will be by tomorrow morning, when I am rushing to get everyone back to school.

I inwardly sigh, preparing myself for the collective groan I will hear from the backseat when I announce we have to stop for gas. The whole carload of kids who are so ready to go home will not be happy about this little detour.

I take a deep breath and say out loud to my oldest son, “Well, it looks like we’re going to need to run by the gas station on the way home. I’m almost out of gas.”

Just as I had predicted, my son was visibly disappointed. “I just want to go home,” he said. “I’ve been gone all day, and I’m tired of being in the car.”

Yes, believe me, I get it, I thought. Going to get gas is not at the top of my joy list either. I agreed aloud with him, and then, somehow in the middle of my complaint of agreement, my narrative shifted.

I just love it when that happens.

“You know,” I said to my son, “having a car is a privilege, but cars can’t run without gas.” As a fourteen-year-old, preparing to get his drivers permit next year, this seemed an apt lesson. Fully in Mom mode now, I continued my mini lecture. “With all privilege comes responsibility. It’s part of the way it works.”

Wow. Maybe I needed to preach to myself. Sometimes I surprise myself with words of wisdom that flow in my counseling office or when I’m parenting. Often I find when that happens, I needed to hear the lesson more than the person I was speaking to. This particular afternoon, I have no idea how much of an impact the lesson made on my son, but it certainly helped to shift my thinking.

Waiting together in the school pick-up line.

Just earlier that morning the Lord had reminded me how truly blessed I am. Sure, I complain a lot about my kids: the hard work they require, the little gratitude they show, the many messes they make, the referee they require me to be to break up fights all the time. Still, they are my blessings: full of joy and life. Yes, I long for peace and quiet, but I would never trade the life they’ve given me for one of silence. The noise and work of motherhood is just the gas pump price.

My attitude about my job is similar. I love my job. Well, most of the time. A year of counseling virtually has had me question my calling a time or two, but at the end of the day, sitting with people and hearing their stories is a tremendous privilege. Whether I see a client for one visit or for years, I had the honor of being a part of their life, of their journey, and of their healing. Paperwork, videoconferencing, and phone calls are not the joy of my job. Sometimes, these tasks make me tired, yet I would never trade the privilege of counseling for the gas pump price of the paperwork that comes with it.

I think you get the idea. The minutia of complaints we can find to focus on are the gas station stops that come with the gift of being able to drive. Driving gives us freedom. It gives us independence, and it helps us get where we want to go. However, this responsibility also comes with tune ups, frequent refuelings, insurance prices, and the occasional flat tire. Personally, I spend a lot of life trying to avoid the hard things. Sometimes even dreading the hard things. This outlook can keep me from enjoying life on the road.

Driving the road of life comes with a lot of potholes and gas station stops, but let’s not forget to enjoy the wind in our hair and the reason we’re driving in the first place. What an absolute privilege it is to be alive and placed in the roles God has given us: our jobs, our families, our ministries, and our friendships. Like me, I hope you take the time to preach to yourself and refocus on the gifts you’ve been given, rather than the hardships that accompany it.

Now, remind me of that lesson next week when I need to fill up again.

Pause, Renew, Next: Be still and take a deep, cleansing breath. Take time to meditate, pray, or journal as you reflect. What have you recently found yourself complaining about in life? How are those responsibilities part of the privilege of the gifts you’ve been given in life? How can you shift your thinking and find gratitude this week? As you think about it, offer these findings as prayers of thanks.

May we have eyes to see the gifts we’ve been given rather than just the work that accompanies the gifts.

Pause, Renew, Next!

On Being Relevant

Dr. Sullivan was my honors English teacher during my freshman year of high school. She was a unique individual to say the least. She dressed like a left-over hippie, was quick to laugh, and didn’t take life too seriously. She could have been a college professor, but for some reason, unknown to me, had made herself at home among high school students instead. She dove into great literature with her students, and her classroom was an open forum for discussions. However, when a student would stray too far off topic, or try to change the subject, she would laugh a little and announce their answer was, “Irrelevant!” With that quick and succinct nudge, she would direct the student back on topic.

Relevant: closely connected or appropriate to what is being done or considered; appropriate to the current time, period, or circumstances

Being relevant feels especially important in today’s fast-paced, social media-fueled world. It’s easy to catch the FOMO (fear of missing out) bug, when we see others doing, saying, or posting all the right things.

Because of Pause, Renew, Next, I have accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Each of these mediums is curated differently, but being relevant is oh so important on each of these platforms. On Twitter, one must have something witty or poignant to say, especially if it’s relevant to the latest news. On Instagram, you must curate the most beautiful photos with the most meaningful taglines and captions, or you must have the most authentic, natural-looking selfies which are never truly authentic, because they are, after-all, selfies. On Facebook, you must make the correct pronouncement, tag the right people, or post the perfect meme to receive likes, comments, and shares. These likes, retweets, shares, and comments affirm that you are, indeed, relevant. That your voice, your pictures, and your opinions have a place at the table.

Now, I have never been a popular person: not in elementary school, not in middle school, not in high school, and not in college. Sure, I’m well-liked, but never popular. Actually, I am perfectly okay with that. Popularity can fall quickly. All it takes is one wrong move, and the crowd can turn against you. No thanks, I’d rather stay away from that kind of pressure.

In the same way that popular kids in a high school decide who’s cool and who’s not, cancel culture has recently stepped onto the scene to declare who is relevant, and who is no longer relevant. In today’s world, we can all, in some way, curate our own conversation, picking online and in real life the people we choose to keep at the table, thereby choosing our own discussion and our own participants.

Enter Jesus. You guys, I have never been more in love with Him than I have been lately. There are many people who have much to say about Him. Some of those people have recently been cancelled. Some of them may deserve to be cancelled. Jesus, however, can speak for Himself. He never disappoints. He never fails, and he is certainly never irrelevant. His words ring true, and they are always on point. He brought people to the table that the Pharisees of his day pronounced irrelevant. He chose rag-tag disciples, a crude band of brothers, and discipled them into greatness.

What Jesus is teaching me lately is to walk in step with His Spirit, at His pace. To be relevant, we often feel pressure to respond immediately and correctly to the pressures at hand. Jesus, however, is never hurried. He is measured in His responses. People were full of chaos around him, asking for healings, touching him, following him, and pressuring him. In response, he never worried; he never rushed. He didn’t curate the perfect letter or meme to respond to their accusations. No, he prayed. He followed His Father’s orders. He took time to love on the people in his path… even those who were not popular or relevant. He did not worry about what people thought of him. He listened to His Father’s instructions only. This is what it means to be relevant.

There will always be news cycles, disasters, cultural changes, and important social issues. You may very well be called to respond to them. You may be called to speak up. However, when you follow Jesus, you can know that there is no pressure or worry to do so immediately. The world rushes to reaction, but if you don’t curate the perfect response in a timely fashion, you are not irrelevant.

Mamas, as you care for your children, you are relevant in God’s Kingdom. Teachers, as you faithfully make lesson plans, you are relevant in God’s Kingdom. Counselors, as you sit with the brokenhearted, you are relevant in God’s Kingdom. Pastors, as you teach and shepherd the flock, you are relevant in God’s Kingdom. Retail workers, as you stock shelves, you are relevant in God’s Kingdom.

There is no popularity in God’s kingdom. There is no hurry in God’s kingdom. There is no pressure there. His words are always relevant, and as we learn to walk in step with Him, He will use us in timely ways to minister to the people in our paths. And that, I am learning, is what it means to be relevant.

Picture from @bluechairblessing

Pause, Renew, Next: Take a moment to be still and know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10) Breathe deeply and rest. Now, stop and consider in what ways you have felt pressure lately to be relevant. How can you begin to shift your thinking, your worry, and your perspective as you think about the way that Jesus responds to pressure.

May we learn to walk in step with the Spirit and be eternally relevant to a world who is rushing.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Good Intentions

If you’ve been a reader of my blog very long, you may have noticed by now that I tend to write frequently about animals and nature. It seems that I reflect best while observing my natural surroundings. It’s unsurprising then, that today’s blog post starts out with a story about birds.

A birdfeeder hangs off the corner of my back deck. My favorite chair in our living room is parked right next to a window where I have the best view of this feeder. One of my favorite things about summer is sitting in this chair during the sunrise hour, watching the hummingbirds cheerfully visit their feeder. In the winter, I am less consistent in my bird feeding, but I have an old bird feeder that I sometimes hang in the same spot on my back deck. A couple of weeks ago, while sitting in my chair and observing all of the birds in the backyard, I decided that I would start using my winter birdfeeder again. It has been a dreary year, and inviting colorful birds to feed outside the window seemed like the perfect addition to my own soul-care routine this winter.

So, I pulled out our old birdfeeder, bought some birdseed, and filled it up. We were almost immediately visited by tufted titmice and chickadees. A few cardinals and bluebirds have also started frequenting the feeder. As I saw these beautiful and cheerful little birds flitting about outside, I felt pleased with myself.

If you look carefully through the glass, you can see a bird hovering.

A few days ago, I went out on the back deck and found, to my dismay, a dead chickadee, lying on its back, frozen and lifeless. I was first shocked, then surprised, then deflated. It seems that on a sunny day, the little bird ran into the glass of our sunroom, killing itself on impact.

Suddenly, my enthusiasm for my new birdfeeder waned. I found myself questioning whether I had done the right thing by putting a birdfeeder in that location. I mean, I had only wanted to watch the birds. My intentions had been good. I certainly hadn’t meant to lure a little chickadee to its death.

So, yeah, that’s a downer.

Well, granted, it could have happened to anybody. I mean, maybe in the grand scheme of things, it was that chickadee’s time to go. Still, as I thought about it, this scenario felt similar to other disappointments I’ve been experiencing in life.

Often, I go about new ideas with great enthusiasm and good intentions, and very often those endeavors tend to cause more difficulty, disappointment, or strife than I was anticipating. My intentions are good, but the end result is far different than my expectations.

Take, for instance, my great idea this fall to order Misfit Market boxes and introduce my family to new produce and exotic meals. I was genuinely excited about trying new foods and new recipes. I jumped into it with excitement. My children, however, did not share in my enthusiasm. They generously shared their every opinion on the subject with me, and their opinions were rarely gracious. They’re not thankful that I went out of my way to make new foods for them. Their responses are more like, “Yuck, Mom! Why do you keep trying to make meals with these vegetables? Stop getting those Misfit Market boxes!”

I started a podcast with enthusiasm and found myself loving almost every step of the process: from holding encouraging conversations, to editing, to publishing. I really loved almost all of it. Podcasting takes a lot of work, but most of the time it feels totally worth the time and effort. However, over the past year, my listenership has gone down dramatically. The same amount of work and effort is going into the episodes, but due to a pandemic people have less commute time and more virtual learning or work-from-home-time and are less apt to listen to podcasts. My efforts are worthwhile, but the end result is sometimes disappointing.

I could give you a lot of examples, but suffice it to say that I seem to jump headlong into work projects, craft projects, creative ideas, or new parenting strategies, only to find that there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When that happens, I find myself disappointed or disillusioned, which then leads to questioning myself.

So, yes, this blog post is about the death of a chickadee, but it’s really about what to do with disappointment. What do we do when we try really hard and have good intentions but reality doesn’t match up to our expectations?

Well, I’ll tell you what I’m trying to do. I’m reminding myself that I’m not the problem. When things go badly, it’s easy to turn our stinking thinking on ourselves, and begin the blame game.

  • If only I had been better prepared, it might have turned out differently.
  • It must be something I’ve done wrong.
  • Maybe if I was like so-and-so, my kids would be better behaved.
  • I wonder what people must think of me?
  • Because this didn’t work out, I must be a failure.

Our negative thoughts may differ depending on the situation and our normal internal dialogue, but the result is the same. We can take natural disappointment and turn it into shame by blaming ourselves.

Instead of believing these negative thoughts when they pop in, I’m trying to be realistic about the situations and grieve my disappointment instead. Goodness, I didn’t plot a chickadee murder. My intentions were good. It’s sad that a bird died, and I can feel sad about it. And, I can leave it at that. I have permission to feel what I need to feel without turning the dialogue into what that must mean about me as a person.

So, my children don’t like new vegetables. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad cook. I’m still introducing them to new foods, and one day they’ll be thankful they had a mother who made them meals. In the meantime, I’m allowed to feel miffed and even angry occasionally that my hard work is unappreciated. And, it doesn’t mean anything about me personally.

So, my podcast isn’t skyrocketing. You know what? Most podcasts aren’t. A global pandemic happened, and that has nothing to do with the quality or content of my podcasts. I can feel disappointed, and I can remember the reasons why I’m producing a podcast to begin with. The purpose has little to do with the number of listeners, but I can still let myself feel disappointed. It’s human and it’s natural. Then, I will just keep on keeping on, recording the next conversation, editing the next episode.

I have permission to grieve, be disappointed, be angry, and be human, and I do not have to turn those feelings into stinking thinking about myself. You don’t either, friend.

So, as an encouragement to you and myself, Galatians 6 says to not grow weary in doing good, for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Yesterday, as I did my Bible reading, a beautiful blue bird landed right outside the window… Like a sweet little gift from my Father: a reminder that beauty is there to be found. We may not reap the benefits of our good intentions right away, and sometimes we will be disappointed, but we can keep sowing anyway. There is still beauty to be found. So, I will remember that while I watch the little birds out my window.

Verse Image from the YouVersion Bible app.

Pause, Renew, Next: Take a minute to breathe deeply and reflect. In what ways have you experienced disappointment lately about the way something has turned out in your life. What have your thoughts been about that situation? Have you found yourself wrongfully blaming yourself for how it turned out? Give yourself permission this week to feel the emotions you need to feel about that situation. Where you find yourself focusing on negative thoughts associated with the situation, find ways to tell yourself the truth instead. If you want to, find Scripture passages that will help you speak truth to yourself.

May we give ourselves permission to be human and rely on the grace that God extends to us in our own weakness, and may we continue to do good.

I hope the Lord sends you a little bluebird this week too.

Pause, Renew, Next!

*Misfit Market is not a sponsor. 🙂

Rhythms of Soul-Care

I am not a person who likes structure and routine. In fact, the more set a routine becomes, the more I find myself wanting to break it. So, you can imagine that the idea of a “devotion” or “quiet time” has been difficult for me. For years, I found myself reading the Bible at random times, as the whim struck, or quickly squeezing in a short devotional before bed. Participating in Bible studies has been a major help over the years, for both the community and the accountability of getting in the Word.

A year or two ago, I found a podcast called The Daily Audio Bible, which read through the Bible in a year. Listening to this podcast made it easier to get in the Word more frequently, because I could listen to it being read to me while I drove, cleaned, or cooked dinner. Still, I didn’t listen every day and often found myself missing sections of the reading as I was momentarily distracted.

So, I challenged myself last year to begin a two-year reading plan of the Bible. I figured giving myself two whole years was doable, even as a busy wife and Mom. I’ve never read the whole Bible chronologically before, and I wanted to become more disciplined in my reading time. Over the last year, I have made it a practice, almost every day, to get up before my children and read.

I am now more than a year into the practice, and have made it all the way into Jeremiah. Daily Bible reading has become one of my rhythms of soul-care. What then, after thirteen months, can I report about the changes in my own soul? Well, to be honest, it’s been really hard. I have found the last year of reading through the Old Testament to be, at times, difficult. Most of the time I don’t come away inspired for the day. God doesn’t always give me a personal word for my daily life or an encouraging tidbit to start my day. Sure, sometimes I come away with that kind of experience, but often it feels more like obedience than joy.

I began this practice, unbeknownst to me, at the beginning of a year that would bring in a pandemic, social distancing, and one of the hardest years of parenting I’ve ever experienced. I haven’t always felt “close to the Lord” this year, even while reading His Word. I want to be completely honest about this fact, before I go on to say that it has been completely worth it. Sometimes emotions don’t coincide with obedience, but there is a contentment and fulfillment that comes with being filled with God’s Word. I have gained a greater knowledge of the Scriptures. I am practicing perseverance and endurance, which is a huge step in my walk with Christ. Yes, I can say with full conviction, my decision to wake up early and read the Bible has been worth it.

As a family, we’re also beginning to make new soul-care rhythms. For years I’ve admired others who carved out time for family devotions and prayer. Over the years, my husband and I have not been consistent at doing this with our children. However, this year we have had A LOT of family together time, and much of it has not been positive. So, we decided to have a time each evening after dinner where we do a devotion reading, sing praise songs, and take time to pray together as a family.

Again, in my mind’s eye and with great expectations, I hoped this would be a time of family bonding, love, and answering sincere questions about God. On the contrary, our children fight about what song we’re going to sing, who’s sitting next to whom on the couch, and how long they have to pray. Usually they talk and sing over one another and fight with each other throughout our devotion time. My husband and I often finish our family devotions feeling more like we’ve run a marathon than like we have been sitting at the feet of Jesus. (Again, just being honest.)

I do want to be honest, because I think we’re led to believe that devotions should leave us feeling warm or fuzzy if we’ve done it correctly. Truthfully, creating rhythms and routines in our faith lives is less about the emotions and contentment it evokes and more about the cultivation of our souls. I don’t know about you, but my soul is wayward. I think I can say that my children’s souls are too. Creating a rhythm of prayer, worship, and Bible reading will not happen on accident: Not for us, and not for our children. I am cultivating this time with my children in faith, believing that even if I can’t yet see the results, their little souls are being planted with Scripture, truth, and goodness. I’m believing their lives will bear the fruit of it: that their minds are being transformed by it.

So, friends, I want to encourage you today. I hope you don’t come away from this feeling guilty for not reading the Bible more faithfully. If anything, I want you to come away from this hearing me say that cultivating rhythms of soul-care is hard work. It will feel difficult. You may not always have positive emotions at the end, but I want you to hear me say that it’s completely worth it. Push through and try. Find something that is doable for you in this season of your life: something you can commit to. If you miss a day, it’s okay. Just get back in the next day. Running the race of faith is hard work, but if we pace ourselves, finding our rhythm, we will finish strong.

Pause: Take a deep belly breath and slowly exhale. James 1:4 says, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  What does perseverance in faith mean to you?

Renew: When you think about rhythms of soul-care, what comes to your mind? Have you had rhythms and routines in your life that have helped cultivate your relationship with the Lord? How have you noticed these rhythms change in different seasons of your life?

Next: What kind of soul-care rhythm can you implement in your daily life? Think about ways that you could incorporate Bible reading, worship, or prayer into your life in a practical way. Then, over the next few weeks, begin to implement this new practice into your daily routine.

May we walk in rhythm with the Spirit, intentionally cultivating our faith walk.

Pause, Renew, Next!

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