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Pause. Renew. Next.

Category: Blog (Page 1 of 9)

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!

Skin in the Game

The conversations in our home about race and difference sneak up on me, and I inevitably find myself unprepared. All the adoption trainings in the world can’t prepare one for the actual moment that the issue will arise. Transracial adoption is tricky that way. There I am, parenting like normal, when suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, a question is asked or a comment is made that brings up what is always there right under the surface: difference, skin tone, and diversity. The conversation can be triggered in various ways. Sometimes it’s a book or TV show. Sometimes it’s an observation my son makes about his skin compared to his brothers. Sometimes it’s a birthday or adoption anniversary. This time, it was about Martin Luther King Day.

As I tucked my son into bed last night, he asked, “Do we have school tomorrow?” “No, tomorrow is a holiday, bud,” I responded.

Naturally, he wanted to know what holiday it was, so I explained that it was Martin Luther King Day. He didn’t know who Martin Luther King Jr. was, so I told him that he was a great man who worked for the rights of black people in our country.

“Like me,” he said knowingly. “Yes, honey, like you, but he lived a long time ago. Let’s look him up tomorrow and read about him together, would you like that?”

My son nodded, and settled down into bed to go to sleep.

I recounted the conversation to my husband later that evening, and he responded, “But it really wasn’t that long ago. Not really.”

No, it wasn’t. It really wasn’t.

Just a generation or two.

As an adoptive mother, I find myself raising an African American son and having conversations about things that I myself can’t really understand or fathom. Who really can? Martin Luther King Jr. had courage to lead and speak truths that needed to be heard at a pivotal time, yet how could I sum up the work he did to an innocent child?

My son is only five years old. There’s so much he does not yet know about the world. Still, the conversations about ethnic differences have already begun. It began before he had words. Many well-meaning people have told me that he may not even notice the differences. He may feel so loved he will just navigate his childhood as if he’d been birthed into our family. However, early on, he did notice differences. By the age of three, he was asking questions and making comments about having brown skin when his brothers have white skin. This, after all, is a normal part of development: making sense of ourselves and the world around us.

As race and privilege have arisen as major topics in the nation’s conversation over the past year, my son has remained mostly oblivious, too young to watch the news. Still, I know, one day he will understand. Over time, difficult conversations will be had. I won’t always be able to shield him from the hurt, pain, and prejudice he may experience.

I am humbled by the responsibility that I have been given to raise this precious boy. With God’s help, I will navigate this conversation, and all that are to come. I will teach my children what heroism looks like: standing up for justice and righteousness, even when there is opposition. We will read and learn together about Martin Luther King Jr. and other heroes with brown skin who changed the world.

The truth is, I am not just opening the eyes of my son to see the world differently: he has opened my eyes. I have so much still to learn myself. I have seen a different reality since becoming his mother. Things that I had the privilege to not see before, now I cannot unsee. Things I could choose not to hear before, now I cannot unhear. I am an advocate. I am a protector. I am a mama bear, and with this role has come the humility and discomfort of a new sort of education. It’s easy to dismiss uncomfortable things until you have “skin in the game.” Now I do.

So, on this Martin Luther King Day, I want to stop and say thank you to those who have made themselves uncomfortable to advocate for those who have been marginalized and oppressed.

May we have the bravery to humble ourselves, listen, and learn. May we have the courage to do this, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

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The Stain of Skepticism

Something has been growing in my mind and soul, festering and spreading like black ink. It’s not a new thing: it’s been there for many years, but over the past year it’s been multiplying and growing. Left unchecked, this something has the power to destroy my faith and trust: in relationships, in authority, in Scripture, even in my walk with God. This ugly thing that’s been growing inside of me has a name: it’s skepticism.

skepticism: a skeptical attitude; doubt as to the truth of something

To be clear, I’m not talking about critical thinking. As Christians, I believe we should be wise and filter all information through the truth of God’s word, using discernment and clear judgment. No, skepticism carries a different connotation. It’s laced with cynicism, with distrust, and with judgment. These three characteristics can lead us down dark paths.

My skepticism started early last year when I learned that two of my favorite “internetainers”, Rhett and Link, had left the faith. They both “deconstructed” their faith and found there was nothing left. Hearing their stories made me feel sad and disappointed, especially as I realized how many people their story influenced. Over the course of the last year, I’ve watched many Christian influencers fall: either through sin or their own public renouncing of their faith.

Then came the pandemic. Social distancing, loneliness, and isolation led to many of us spending more time connecting online rather than face to face. Over the past few months three important issues have risen to the forefront of our collective consciousness: a global pandemic, racial injustice, and a major election. On all three fronts, I watched people I know and love argue online. Differences of opinions compounded through hurtful memes and unfiltered judgments about the “other.” All the while, most of these conversations that could have been resolved in person, were depersonalized as words on a screen.

I felt myself growing angry, bitter, and resentful. I grew judgmental of those who had different opinions than myself. I grew more and more frustrated as I watched many in authority add fuel to the fire rather than speaking words of peace to resolve conflict. On Facebook, unkind memes and conspiracy theories flew faster than facts could be checked. On Twitter, witty remarks spoke truth but with no mercy or kindness, only judgment. Even the podcasters I was listening to laced their words with skepticism as they talked about the issues.

I could keep adding to my list of what has caused my skepticism this year, but I think you get the general idea. I have grown disappointed in people that I have previously respected. Thankfully, the election is now over and many of the hurtful memes have abated. Still, the damage of words cannot be taken back.

As I began to judge people and their motives, I found myself becoming harder to the things of God as well. It’s hard to love God and not love people. To love, we must be open, not closed. We must be ready and willing to see the good in others and the good of God. We must be able to give and receive mercy, not judgment. We must be open to see the log in our own eyes, before we find the stick in another’s eye. I have found that when skepticism reigns in me, my heart is hard and unrepentant.

Why am I sharing this now? Well, because the Lord has been making me more and more aware of this pattern in my life, and I have the feeling I’m not alone. I’ve confessed it before Him, and I’m asking Him for a heart of flesh, rather than a heart of stone. In order to see His Kingdom at work and be part of what He’s doing, I’ve got to have my vision restored. Honestly, repentance may not be a one-time process. Change means creating new pathways in the brain and that takes time. However, that’s the beauty of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. He makes all things new.

Pause: Take a moment to still your body and your mind and meditate on the verse above.

Renew: What about you? Are there places in your mind and heart that skepticism has been growing? What are the effects of this in your thought life, your relationships, and your spiritual life?

Next: Along with me, I invite you to confess where judgment is trumping mercy and love. As you notice skepticism and judgment creeping into your thought life this week, confess it and ask that the Lord would give you faith, love, and a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone.

As believers in a cynical world, may we be wise as serpents, but still innocent as doves.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Bird on a Wire

Sometimes, it seems the Lord has to speak to me in multiple ways and at multiple times for a message to sink in. That has been my experience this fall. Certainly, I am a believer in reading the Bible daily to hear from the Lord. Still, in my life, the Lord often speaks in many ways, not just through Scripture. One of those ways is through nature. I believe as we seek His face, He will speak to us: through His Word and through His still, small voice. The key is to listen. To be honest, I am often distracted and not usually paying attention. Thus, in His great mercy, He reminds me on multiple occasions. Here is my latest example.

A few months ago, my mother-in-law was thinning out her garden and blessed me with strawberry plants. Her advice was to cut off the excess leaves and shoots of the plants, leaving the main root to be replanted. If all goes according to plan, this spring I will have an abundance of healthy strawberry plants in my garden.

As I sat, cutting off the excess leaves and shoots, I was meditating on the spiritual significance of “paring down.” It takes a lot of energy to be replanted and thrive. All of the leaves and extra shoots would sap energy from the strawberry root that needs to be established. Being pared down focuses the energy of the plant into fundamental growth. I felt the Lord impress on me that I too could use some paring down in my life. What did I need to focus my energy on, and what was “sapping” energy away from fundamental places of growth in my life?

Well, I wish I could tell you that I took that word and meditated on it, journaled about it, and prayed about it, but that would be false. I made a mental note and then practically forgot about it as my evening of parenting and everyday life continued.

Fast forward a few weeks to a day that I was feeling emotionally drained and physically exhausted. After a long week, it seemed I had a to-do list a mile long, and we were having guests over that evening. By mid-afternoon, I just wanted to escape. I didn’t feel like I could clean one more thing, break up one more argument among my children, or be around people, period. I asked my husband if I could go for a short drive by myself. Perplexed, but supportive, he responded, “Sure.”

I got in my van and turned on a podcast. Soon, I felt the strong tug in my spirit to turn off the noise and pray. So, I did. I poured out my frustrations, my feelings of being overwhelmed, and, like a good Father, the Lord listened. I drove down farm roads, taking in the scenery, and talking out loud in the safety and anonymity of my vehicle. I have found over the years, that praying and crying are best done on walks or drives.

Suddenly, I saw a beautiful hawk perched on an electric wire, high above me. He was looking out over a farm field, staring intently. Again, I felt the Lord impress on my spirit a similar word to before.

It seemed He was whispering, “See that hawk? He’s up high, because from there he has a full view and the best perspective. If he were in the field, he would be jumping around aimlessly, using up his energy, trying to catch his meal, but from up above, he can focus his energy and get the best result.”

Okay, Lord, I get it. I need to pare down and focus my energy. It seemed so clear. I felt so impressed by this, that I came home and told my husband all about it.

From above, perspective changes

Again, I wish I could tell you that my life immediately changed: that I came home and reorganized my whole life and all of my priorities, but that would again be inaccurate.

No, although I have been reminded now multiple times, I still only think about it in spurts. What does paring down mean? What needs to be eliminated and what should remain? How can I focus my energy? I have some ideas, and I see areas where the Lord is directing me, but it is an ongoing process of discovery.

Actually, I had a whole different blog post planned for today, but when I sat down to write, it just wasn’t going anywhere. Then, I looked out the window, and from my vantage point I could see a large black bird, sitting atop a tall and barren tree. From there, he had a clear and unobstructed view of the yard and pasture, and I was reminded again. So, with the Lord’s prompting, I took this blog for a turn. Perhaps this is a reminder for not just me, but for you as well.

Pause, Renew, Next: What about you? Where are the places that you find yourself using energy that you don’t have to give? Is the Lord calling you to pare down and refocus? How does your vantage point and your priorities change when you see your life from a “bird’s eye view?” I encourage you (and myself) to pray, journal, and meditate about this as we are reflecting on our year and preparing for the next.

May you have the peace and focus of a bird on a wire.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Gratitude and Lament

On this week of Thanksgiving, I want to count my blessings. I want to publicly document all of my abundance. Normally, giving thanks comes easily for me, and this year is no different. I can always find much to be thankful for. It’s just that this year, my gratitude comes mixed with sorrow, more like a broken hallelujah. Often we separate and juxtapose joy and sorrow, but together they are powerful. (If you don’t believe it, go watch Inside Out!) The Psalmist writes songs mixed with lament and gratitude, and thus his praises are not just beautiful, but authentic. So, before I begin my thanksgiving, I want to reflect on the difficult changes that have occurred this year.

My husband and I made the choice to transition our children to public school this school year. In fact, we announced this change to our children approximately two weeks before the pandemic began last March. At the time, two of our children were in private school and two were being homeschooled. Then, almost without warning, Covid-19 rapidly changed the end of their school years. My children were sent home from their school and homeschool co-op abruptly, unable to truly say goodbye to their friends.

Being practically homebound last spring felt like a gift at first. Usually, I found myself driving all over the county, keeping up with work, school, church, piano, and karate schedules. Now, I was given permission to work from home, watch church from home, and stop all of the extracurricular activities. The quiet felt like a much-needed break. However, as the months dragged on, I found that I was losing energy. My extroverted self was missing relationship. It turns out, my kids were feeling this lack of connection as well.

As school began this fall, my children transitioned beautifully into public school. Still, it was hard for them to form new relationships while wearing a mask, sitting six feet apart, and only going to school two days per week. They grieved their old friends, their old life. All of the children and youth activities at our church were placed on hold, and they missed their old social outlets. I had planned to be an active parent at their new school, volunteering and forming new relationships of my own. The pandemic changed this plan as well. Instead, I met most of their new teachers virtually.

I also found, as the pandemic wore on, that parenting became much more difficult. Navigating puberty, school transitions, brotherly competition, loneliness, and boredom has made parenting extraordinarily challenging. All of the feelings of grief, it seemed, were being turned into anger, and our house felt (and still feels) like it will implode with the power of it.

My counseling work changed as well. Practically overnight, my counseling practice of 13 years went from in-person counseling to virtual counseling. Although on the positive side, I was able to work from home much of the time and wear jeans and tennis shoes to counseling sessions, I quickly learned that counseling via videoconference is exhausting work. At the end of the day, I left feeling depleted: emotionally, mentally, and physically. Like many other helping jobs which have transitioned from in-person to virtual, I found that an element of the relationship goes missing through a computer screen. It takes more work to be understood, to be felt, and to create safety.

Even through a hard year of transition, the Lord’s mercies have been new and faithful every morning.

Through the pandemic, I have learned a lot about myself. A couple of years ago, I discovered the Enneagram, and it has been so valuable to me in this season. It has helped to give language and understanding to the way I am experiencing the pandemic. As an Enneagram 2, I am wired to see the world through emotion. It can be a super power to understand the feelings and needs of others and be able to help and provide understanding. It certainly is helpful as a counselor. However, the flip side is that I expect to receive love and appreciation back for my efforts. Well, this year, there has been little good feedback and positive interpersonal interaction with which to refill my cup.

Whereas normally my job is rewarding through person to person connection, now the connection feels tenuous through screens and phonelines. Whereas normally I can get together with friends on a regular basis, this year I’ve had to work harder and be more creative to make that happen. Although as a parent I know that my children give little positive feedback, this year, their negative feedback towards each other and myself has felt almost demoralizing. Even my podcast, which I spend hours and hours working on for the purpose of encouraging others has had less listenership since the pandemic began. In other words, it feels like all of the places that I am usually most “helpful,” are places that this year I have received little reward for the effort.

Thanks to the Enneagram’s insight, knowing my own underlying proclivities, and getting to the end of my own rope, the Lord is leading me through some really good soul work in this season. He is rooting out pride and digging up humility. He is unveiling sins that I can normally dress up or quickly move past. He is teaching me to “pare down,” and cling to what is good. I am learning how to be more intentional in my relationships, even my relationship with Jesus.

This brings me, finally, to my thanksgiving. In a year where many lost their lives, I am thankful for my health and my family. In a year where racial dynamics have risen to the surface of our country, I am thankful for my adopted son, and how his presence in my life is teaching me to see racial differences and injustices I would have previously overlooked. I am thankful that through a major life transition, the Lord has sustained my family. I am thankful that though many are without jobs, my husband and I have good, meaningful work. I am thankful that though some days of parenting are exhausting, the Lord has given me four beautiful boys which, in faith, I believe will grow into Godly men. I am thankful that I have learned to be more intentional about relationships, no longer taking them for granted. I am thankful that the Lord is honing my skills and creativity. I am thankful that I am growing a true appreciation for peace: relationally, mentally, and spiritually. I certainly have much to be thankful for.

Thank you for coming to my Thanksgiving TED talk.

Pause: Inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Find a comfortable position, and read Psalm 103, taking note of the Psalmist’s gratitude.

Renew: Music can help us reflect and move words and thoughts from our brains to our hearts. I love Ellie Holcomb’s music, which often reflects Scripture. In this song, she sings through the first few verses of Psalm 103. Listen to her song: Don’t Forget His Love and reflect on the Lord’s goodness.

Next: What about you? Do you have much to lament this season? What are you thankful for? Think, pray, or journal through your experience over the past year and how you’ve seen the Lord’s provision in your life.

May we be people who learn to lament, and still lift our eyes and hands to praise the Father for all of His good gifts.

Pause, Renew, Next!

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