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Category: Blog (Page 1 of 7)

Self-Control: The Inner Boundary

I was never a bad kid. I didn’t have that kind of reputation with friend or teachers, yet I received my fair share of punishments and detentions. Why? Because of a little talking problem I had. I talked to my friends during class. I talked to the teacher without raising my hand. I talked aloud when I had a question. I talked standing in line or during assemblies. You name it, I talked. To be honest, I haven’t completely outgrown it. My mouth still gets me in trouble to this day.

Self-control is not my strong suit, but truthfully is it anyone’s? Perhaps there’s a reason that it’s listed last out of the nine fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and then Self-Control.

These days, I have another self-control problem, and it’s one that many people struggle with: the overuse of social media. Unfortunately, there’s no detention for it. No one is there to monitor my behavior, or dole out punishments if I spend too long scrolling Facebook. The platforms themselves are designed to be addicting. There’s no natural end to it, because scrolling can last forever. There’s no end to the likes and the comments that are possible. Each positive interaction receives a dopamine hit in the brain. Social media gives the essence of social interaction, but without most of the positive benefits. Even knowing all of this, I struggle to maintain control over it.

The apps are always accessible!

Over the years I have been through cycles of how to manage my social media use. After all, awareness is the first step, right? I desire to have self-control in this area, but somehow I always find myself overstepping the boundaries that I put in place. I can tell myself that I won’t look again for two hours, but, without meaning to, I impulsively check Instagram again as soon as boredom arises.

A few years ago, I heard Henry Cloud, co-author of the bestselling book, Boundaries, speak about this issue. He told a story from his own life, explaining that when he was at home he could eat well and work out regularly, but, whenever he went on the road for business, he inevitably started gaining weight. He couldn’t seem to stick to his healthy lifestyle choices while traveling. So, he reminded himself that whenever self-control fails, it’s important to bring in outside accountability. He then hired a trainer or life coach that he could check in with while he was on the road and found that afterwards he was better able to maintain his healthy lifestyle while traveling.

I have tried to remember this wise advice: Whenever self-control fails, bring in outside accountability.

Outside accountability can look like many different options. For phone use, it could mean having a timer on social media apps. It could mean shutting off all internet at a certain time of day. It could look like having an accountability partner. There are no limits to the creative ways that one could employ the use of outside accountability.

Usually, when we think and talk about boundaries, it’s within the context of relationships. Sometimes, however, we need to set boundaries with ourselves. Sin exists in others, but it also exists within. Solomon wrote about this concept long ago:

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

Proverbs 25:28 ESV

Self-control is our boundary line. Without it, there’s little with which to keep the good in or the bad out. We alone have control over how we spend our time, what we consume, how we behave, or what we say.

If only it was easy. There’s a reason that self-control is listed not as a trait or characteristic we should exhibit but as a fruit of the Spirit. By my own self-will, I cannot achieve self-control. I can’t white knuckle it long enough to maintain goodness, patience, kindness, or peace either. They are fruit given by the Holy Spirit.

Gifts can be desired. They can be prayed for. They can be cultivated.

Although self-control may not be a fun fruit to cultivate, it sure is worth the effort.

Pause: Inhale deeply, then slowly exhale. Take a few moments to meditate on the above verse.

Renew: In what area of your life are you like a city broken into and left without walls? In what areas of your life do you have self-control, and in what areas is it lacking? Pray that the Lord would reveal these areas to you.

Next: If there is an area of your life in which you lack self-control, think about how you might begin to use outside accountability to help you have better boundaries in that area. Pray for self-control, and, if you feel so led, ask a trusted friend or mentor to pray for you as well.

May we strive to be cities with sturdy walls.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Discomfort: An Agent of Change

I spent last week at the beach. Vacation is always a welcome escape. I made no meals. I sat in the sun. I spent time with family. It was a good week. The only problem with vacation is that it always comes to an end.

The day after we returned, I found myself in a mini-depression. There was so much house and yard work to catch up on, so many bills to pay, so many appointments to schedule, so much on my to-do list at work this week. Even more than that, I felt overwhelmed with the knowledge that the coming year will bring many changes to our family, and that it was time to begin the process of enrolling our children in a new school.

The truth is, coming home from vacation meant I had to deal with all of my real-life problems again. Did you see that? I called them problems. That’s because they make me uncomfortable and cause me anxiety. By the following day, when I had a more healthy perspective again, I was thinking of them as challenges to be conquered, one by one. I made myself a to-do list for the week; I began praying about the changes and talking with my husband and began making a plan of action. Believe me, I’m still not excited about the challenges. Truthfully, they continue to cause me anxiety. Sure, I’d still rather go on vacation and forget about them, but now I am better prepared to deal with them.

That’s the way of discomfort. There are two ways to handle it: escape and avoid it, or allow it to challenge you into movement.

To be honest, I rather prefer the first way. In fact, most of the time when I find myself in a place of discomfort, my anxiety heightens, and I avoid, avoid, avoid. As a counselor, I know this as the flight part of the fight/flight scenario. If I see a challenge coming, I immediately look for the way out.

Avoidance only works for a time though. In the long run, it can make situations worse. The longer we avoid the hard things, the greater the anxiety grows. Challenges rarely disappear as we hide our heads in the sand. No, often a call to action is needed.

Which leads me to the place I am this week: making lists, praying, filling out forms, and going to necessary appointments. I would definitely rather be at the beach, but I know that as the upcoming changes occur, my anxiety will dissipate. The unknown is always uncomfortable, but in time, the unknowns will become known. I will have answers. I will have plans. Step by step, the future arrives, discomfort and all.

In our world right now, I think it is safe to say that discomfort abounds. The unknowns feel overwhelming. Opposing sides of political spectrums and race relations are leaving many feeling polarized, but what if instead of letting hard conversations and misunderstandings cause us to avoid, we allow the discomfort to move us towards change?

In my life, often the Lord uses places of tension and discomfort to bend me towards new perspectives, ideas, and life changes. Pain and discomfort open us up to new ways of thinking and living that we may have previously never considered. This is how He led me into the path of adoption. This is how He led me into the counseling profession.

Comfort is a great word to describe recliners, but cannot be the mindset of a disciple of Christ. Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, with no place to rest His head. Comfort was not His way. Not in this world, anyway. Comfort lulls us to sleep and gives us a false sense of safety. Christ calls us to follow Him, and through the toils and hardships of the narrow way He provides for our needs. That is the true calling, friends.

So, as I’m preaching to you and myself, let’s remember to listen to His still, small voice when we’re feeling uncomfortable. What is He saying? Could it be that He is leading you into it, through it? Keep following Him. He knows the way.

Pause, Renew, Next: Where are you feeling discomfort in your life? Pray about it, journal about it, search the Scriptures, talk with trusted friends or counselors in your life about it. If it is possible, make an action plan for how you want to move forward. May you be courageous, obedient, and ready to listen.

Body Freedom

An ugly, pink scar graces the top of my left shoulder. It’s really unfortunate, because I used to enjoy wearing sleeveless shirts in the summer. After my left shoulder became scarred, I mostly gave them up. Now, rather than looking attractive and confident in a sleeveless top, showing off my shoulders leaves me feeling insecure.

This insecurity became concrete through an uncomfortable experience. A few years ago, while wearing a tank top, I was approached by a child who touched the scar and started asking incessant questions about it. Leave it to a child. Adults play off their curiosity in more socially appropriate ways, but there are no boundaries for curious children. Since that day, I’ve been careful to only wear sleeveless shirts when I felt I was in a confident enough mood to handle questions that might arise.

In my opinion, some scars seem more honorable than others. They tell a story and can be worn with pride. I mean, imagine being asked about a scar and being able to say, “Oh, that was left over from my brush with a mountain lion,” or “I was in a motorcycle accident years ago.” Those kinds of scars can be worn like badges of courage.

Mine, on the other hand, has no great story to accompany it. No, it’s just the leftover remnants of a dermatology surgery to remove an “abnormal” mole over the top of my left clavicle. My skin stretched while healing, and the result is a large, pink scar.

With this backstory in mind, I want to tell you about a shopping trip I took last weekend.

Clothes shopping is delightfully fun but can also be fraught with body image nightmares!

It was my first venture back out into normal shopping since the pandemic began, and I was so happy to be out and about. My shopping companion and I were chatting next to the women’s athletic wear rack. She remarked, “There are some cute pieces here, but I’ve decided not to wear sleeveless anymore. It’s not flattering as I age.”

I quickly replied, “Oh, yeah, since I got a scar on my shoulder, I don’t wear sleeveless anymore either.”

Another customer was hovering nearby and overheard our conversation. She jumped in, “I think you should both wear sleeveless. Don’t worry, be proud.” I looked up at her, and she was smiling encouragingly.

Attempting to respond with kindness, knowing that she was trying to be helpful, I said, “Oh, well I do when I’m in a confident mood. It just depends.”

Her smile dropped a little, and she nodded, continuing her shopping.

Let’s pause here. Now, I am a counselor who has frequent, honest conversations with women who struggle with low self-esteem and poor body image. I find myself preaching often how important it is to become friends with our bodies. I have recovered from an eating disorder myself and know the damage that an inner critical voice can wreak. In fact, I recently have been reading and thinking about how God made us embodied beings and spoke with author Lore Ferguson Wilbert on an upcoming podcast episode about faith, the body, and the importance of touch.

I can preach and think about healthy body image, but apparently I struggle to act on it. While considering all of this, maybe 45 seconds elapsed.

I found myself calling out to the woman, “Thank you! I love your spirit and your body-positive words. You’re right, God gives us all one body, and we get to steward it and enjoy it.”

She beamed back at me.

The whole conversation was over in 2 minutes flat. Still, I have reflected on it multiple times this week. Our words have power. That conversation could have turned into a gab-fest of sharing body flaws. All women know that conversations can devolve into negative body-talk quickly, especially when clothes shopping. Instead, one brave woman stepped in and spoke truth over the lies that my inner critic had been spreading.

Now, I’m not telling you that I’m going to start wearing sleeveless tops every day this summer, but I am proclaiming that I want to work harder at living with body freedom. I don’t want to just preach it. I want to live it. I want to encourage others to live it too.

Our bodies tell stories. They age, they sag, they scar, and they carry cellulite. They also move, breathe, sing, hug, and hold great beauty. Let’s collectively agree to lift one another up and encourage each other towards body compassion rather than body scorn. It’s a beautiful thing to embrace our bodies as sacred and an incredible legacy to pass to the next generation of little bodies growing in our midst.

Pause: Take a moment to read and meditate on I Corinthians 6: 19-20. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: In what ways do you find yourself being critical towards your body? How can you begin to challenge those old ways of thinking and instead treat your body as a gift given to you by a God who loves you?

Next: As you go throughout your week, pay attention to the way that you think and speak about your body. If you find that it’s continually negative, begin a gratitude list of what you are thankful for about your body.

May we find freedom to enjoy and find gratitude for the bodies we’ve been given.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Craving Connection

Lonely. It’s a sad word.

Loneliness isn’t the same as solitude, which entails a willingness to be alone. No, lonely means being alone against one’s wishes. It can feel needy, pathetic, and vulnerable. Loneliness can surface anytime, when one is actually alone, or in a room full of people. In fact, sometimes being alone in a crowd is the most extreme form of loneliness.

Loneliness is like an emotional alarm bell for connection.

There was a time after college when I spent much of my time feeling lonely. I had recently moved to a new town and a new state where I had very few friends. My husband was my best friend, but after he left for work each day I found myself with hours to fill and no one to talk to. I took my dog on walks at the park, went shopping, or spent time in the local library, just so I could be around other people. Even if I didn’t speak to other patrons, the simple act of being around other human beings seemed to dissipate the panic of feeling so very alone.

Fast forward to having children, Bible studies, a job, church small groups, and homeschool co-ops to belong to, and my moments of loneliness felt few and far between – until this year. Life changes have shifted some of our family routines, and the result is that I have seen friends less frequently this year. I was in the process of contemplating how I could remedy this issue when the quarantine hit.

Granted, even now, during the long weeks of social distancing I am rarely alone. With four children in the house, I find it difficult to even find moments of quiet, nevermind solitude. Still, I find my desire for relationship increasing as the weeks go by.

There’s always the beacon of belonging via social media, but this kind of connection is a double-edged sword. Although social media allows us to view each other’s lives and keep up to date on life events, it is just a mirage of real connection. It never quite scratches the itch. Actually, I find that social media increases my loneliness, as it often leaves me feeling left out and discontented.

The thing is, I know I’m not alone in the experience of loneliness. (See what I did there?)

There may never have been a time in the history of the planet that people have felt more lonely than they do right now.

There is absolutely nothing shameful about feeling lonely. Read that again: There is NOTHING wrong with you if you feel lonely. The catch-22 is that loneliness often leads us to a place of shame. As we register the emotion of loneliness, it can send our thoughts into self-questioning, self-loathing, or at the very least a loss of self-confidence. You may find yourself questioning what’s wrong with you that you don’t have more friends? Why has no one called or texted you today? Has everyone else moved on in life and forgotten you? The questions loneliness conjures up can be unique to the situation, yet almost always tinged with shame or fear.

I’m encouraging both of us, you and myself, to challenge those thoughts. We don’t need to challenge the feeling of loneliness. It’s a valid emotion, and it’s okay to acknowledge it. No, I want us to challenge the thoughts that accompany loneliness. Rather than turning them inwards in a self-questioning fashion, let’s embrace ourselves instead. If anything we need to give ourselves grace right now. We have the right to desire friendship and relationship. Relationships are beautiful. We are wired for human connection. This is a hard time, but we will make it through. We will hug again. We will socialize again. We will reunite with old friends, and we will make new ones. This won’t last forever.

On the other hand, right now is an opportune time to contemplate relationships. After all, when will you ever have this much thinking time again? Two questions for contemplation might be:

  • How can I cultivate my relationships while social distancing?
  • In what ways do I want to invest in relationship more or differently when I re-emerge from social distancing?

If you’ve been feeling lonely, hear me come alongside you and tell you that you’re not the only one. It’s a valid feeling, and it’s completely normal to experience it right now. Our grandparents are feeling it, our children are feeling it, our single friends are feeling it, our extroverted friends are especially feeling it, and, you guessed it, so are the introverts. We are absolutely made for connection. Let’s give ourselves and others grace as we navigate the waters of loneliness on our way back out into normal life.

Pause: God said in the beginning of Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Contemplate/journal about your need for relationship. When do you feel most connected in relationship? When do you feel most connected to God?

Renew: What are you learning about yourself during this time of social distancing? How do you want to work on cultivating friendships now and in the future? How can you give yourself grace to experience loneliness without shame?

Next: In your circles of relationships, who can you think of who might be especially lonely right now? How can you reach out to them this week?

May you be comforted by a God who promises to never leave or forsake you. You are never alone.

Pause, Renew, Next!

That’s Not What I Wanted

It seems I was always meant to be a boy mom. As a little girl, I didn’t enjoy playing with dolls. You would more likely have found me making mud pies, floating boats through overflowing ditches, or catching bugs and small, unsuspecting animals. Even as an adult, I enjoy finding and exploring wildlife. I love plants and animals of all sorts!

Naturally, when we filled our pond last summer, the first thing I did was buy goldfish. I found great joy in feeding them and watching them swim around their new home. However, goldfish were not the only wildlife that took up residence in our pond. It’s as if a sonic blast sent the message to amphibians in the area to come make themselves at home too. We began finding frogs sitting nonchalantly on the lily pads. At first it was one, then two, and by the end of last summer, we were counting six frogs at a time!

Although I didn’t plan to stock my pond with frogs, this addition did not phase me one bit. In fact, I was almost as excited to have frogs as my 8-year-old son who is passionately in love with amphibians. I curiously set about trying to discover what kind of frogs we had living in our pond. Soon, I had narrowed it down to two types: the American bullfrog or the green frog.

Peek-a-boo. This is the best picture I could get of these sneaky frogs!

Stubbornly, I have been trying to figure which type of frogs we have for months. It’s trickier than it seems. Apparently, bullfrogs and green frogs are very similar and easily mistaken for one another. It turns out there are two main ways to tell them apart. For one thing, bullfrogs grow to be a lot bigger than green frogs. The juveniles however, look very similar. The other distinguishing factor are the lateral ridges behind their eyes. Getting a good look at those ridges is easier said than done, because those stubborn frogs like to hide under the water whenever I get close enough to look!

Truthfully, I have an opinion on the matter. I am hoping for green frogs. Bullfrogs tend to be bullies, and they eat smaller animals, including other frogs. If bullfrogs are around, not a lot of other small animal life will be. Plus, they’re big and ugly. I like frogs, but I tend to like them on the smaller side. The bigger they are, the more disgusting they become.

Recently, I was sitting by the pond, trying to get a good look at those sneaky frogs, praying that they were green frogs. (Yes, really praying. God cares about all of our thoughts and feelings, even if they’re silly.) While thinking about this, it occurred to me that whether they were bullfrogs or green frogs didn’t matter. My 8-year-old and I were still blessed with frogs. They might not turn out to be the kind of frogs I wanted, but they are still frogs nonetheless.

Now here is where I’m going to take a turn from the ridiculous to the serious. Buckle up while we switch gears. Frogs aren’t the only gift I’ve been given that didn’t turn out like I’d hoped.

Isn’t it true that while we pray for good gifts, when they arrive differently than we expected, we often feel immense disappointment, discouragement, or frustration. Somehow though, when the cloud of disappointment lifts, hindsight shows us that our prayers were answered anyway, and the gifts we received were beautiful in their own way.

For me, this principle has taken on many forms: from praying for a pregnancy and being given the gift of adoption instead, to praying for healing and being given the gifts of endurance and compassion through suffering I didn’t want. In each circumstance we face, the Lord is faithful to give the best gift of all: Himself. He walks with us, reassures us that His ways really are good, and reminds us that He will never leave us.

The apostle Peter learned this lesson firsthand. I love Peter. Like him, I live passionately and often find that my mouth gets me into trouble. I have a lot of compassion for his spiritual foibles. In John 21, we find Peter carrying on a conversation with Jesus, soon after He had risen from the dead. Graciously, Jesus forgives Peter for denying him in the hours before his death and reinstates him with a spiritual calling. He then gives him a vision for his future which will include not only leadership in caring for the church but also suffering and death. I guess Peter didn’t like this vision too much, because he turned to Jesus and asked about John’s future. Jesus directly responded to Peter’s question, answering:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 

John 21:22 NIV

I can imagine that this was not exactly the answer Peter was hoping for. I’m sure that if Peter had written out his own future plans, he would have wanted it to look a little more optimistic and pain-free. Still, God’s plans for him were unique and tailored to his gifts. His wisdom and leadership were fundamental to the early church. Even his suffering was used to encourage and inspire his fellow believers. He wrote eloquent and important letters to instruct them about how to suffer well. Those instructions, found in I Peter 4, still influence and teach us today.

So, what about you? What prayers have you prayed lately that turned out differently than you’d hoped? Can you trust that God’s plans and gifts for you will be good anyway? If no sparrow falls without Him knowing (Matthew 10) and if He knows every hair on your head, then you can bank on the fact that He will give you just what you need…even when it doesn’t look like what you want.

Pause: Breathe in slowly and fill up your belly with air. Now, slowly exhale. Find a quiet place and read John 21: 15-23. What stands out to you in this passage? How was Jesus offering grace to Peter?

Renew: Reflect on gifts the Lord has given you in the past year. Were those gifts exactly what you prayed for? If not, how are you learning to appreciate what you’ve been given?

Next: Be on the lookout for how you can encourage your neighbors (literal or figurative neighbors) who are in a season of not receiving the gifts they’ve prayed for. You don’t necessarily need to offer words: maybe just support in the form of a hug, a listening ear, or an encouraging verse. Sometimes gifts come in the form of comfort and friendship too.

May you be given good gifts and receive grace to appreciate them, even when they come in the form of bullfrogs!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Wandering Thoughts and Focused Attention

Where do your thoughts wander?

It’s been a long day at work, and you are relieved to be in the car driving home. As you pull into the driveway and park your car, you realize that you have no recollection of the last 15 minutes of your commute. Were you driving on autopilot?

On Sunday morning, you find yourself sitting in the church pew, twenty minutes into the pastor’s sermon. He just made his third sermon point, but looking down, you discover that you never wrote down his second point. Instead, you were thinking about what you were going to have for lunch.

Maybe you find yourself cuddled up on the couch, reading a book before bed. Your mind wanders, and when you come back to the book, you realize that you’ve been scanning and re-scanning the same paragraph for some time.

Sound familiar? Our minds love to wander. Often it feels like work to make them sustain attention. In a world of faster and faster technology, our brains are being trained how to work more quickly, multitask more efficiently, and sustain attention for smaller and smaller amounts of time. It seems we are losing the art of deep focus.

The Gift of Focus

Interestingly, there is a growing body of neuroscience research to support the importance of focused attention. Concentrating or focusing deeply is a practice that is incredibly healthy and helpful. You could almost think of it as fertilizer for the brain. Focused attention is a key part of mindfulness, and thankfully because of neuroplasticity, we can train ourselves to get better and better at it.

In fact, you have much more control over your own attention than you think you do. Try this:

  • Bring your focus upward, until you find a focal point on the ceiling. Stare at it for 10 seconds.
  • Now bring your attention downward, to your feet. Take note of them: Are you wearing socks or shoes? What color are they?
  • Now bring your attention to your breath. Focus on how you are filling your lungs slowly and then gently exhaling. Do you see your chest rising and falling?

Our minds are always paying attention to something. It just so happens that much of the time, what we are paying attention to isn’t what is currently unfolding in front of us. Curt Thompson, MD, and author of The Soul of Shame, encourages his readers to “pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.” Where do your thoughts drift when your mind is operating on autopilot?

How can you increase your ability to sustain attention?

There are many mental health benefits to increasing the ability to sustain focus and attention, and there are a myriad of practical ways to practice increasing this capacity. To test your own attention span, try this exercise:

Focus on an object in the room, any object will do. Now, try to focus only on that object for one minute. Whenever you notice your attention drifting, try to bring it back to focusing on the object. (Pause your reading and really try it!)

Did you try it? Now, be honest: how many seconds did it take for your thoughts to drift? Was it 5, 10, or 15 seconds? If you made it to 30, you’re doing pretty well for a first try!

This exercise is not made to emphasize how bad you are at focusing, rather it’s to practice increasing your ability to bring your thoughts back into focus. Our thoughts and attention like to drift, but being able to bring them back is the key. Over time you will notice that you are able to focus for longer and longer spans of time without your thoughts drifting.

Personally, I find that focusing on objects is difficult. For me, focusing on music, or choosing a word or phrase to focus on comes much more easily. Isn’t it interesting then, that Scripture often mentions meditating on God’s Word? The idea of meditating on God’s Word is repeated often throughout the Psalms.

Choosing a phrase of Scripture on which to focus and meditate is an incredible way to not only train your brain, but to feed your spiritual life as well. For more ideas on creative ways to meditate on Scripture, listen to my PRN Podcast episode about this subject.

A screenshot of John Eldredge’s Pause app, a great way to begin practicing rest and meditation

Pause, Renew, Next idea: I have recently found a Scriptural meditation app that I feel captures not only the heart of this blog post’s intent, but also is in line with the whole Pause, Renew, Next concept. I have found it helpful myself, and would love to pass it on to you. John Eldredge’s Pause app, is a free, easy way to schedule in a moment to pause and reflect during your busy day. It has one, three, five, and ten minute options, and walks the listener through meditative prayer and Scripture readings. If you’re needing an easy way to begin practicing focused attention from a Scriptural perspective, the Pause app may be a great place to start.

May you find peace and joy as you take moments to focus deeply and allow your mind and body to rest and renew.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Life Trapped in the Cave of Social Distancing

I’ll be honest: at the beginning of social distancing I did not feel fear; instead I felt relief. You see, between shuttling two of my children back and forth to school, homeschooling the other two, and taking them to appointments, speech therapy, homeschool co-op, and extracurricular activities, I was feeling tired and ready for spring break. Even being given a reprieve from going to church felt like receiving a small vacation. Although I love our church and the community we find there, we usually spend half or more of our Sabbath away from home. Add to all of this juggling a part-time job, and my life was feeling very, very full. The truth is, I was utterly exhausted. Thus, social distancing at first felt like being granted a stay-cation.

Ironically, I have formed an entire podcast and blog around the idea of pausing and renewing. In doing so, I wasn’t striving to be a hypocrite. In fact, I know that I am preaching to myself more than anyone else. Still, it’s clear that pausing and renewing are exactly what I have been needing and not managing to attain often enough.

Many years ago, I read a book by Dannah Gresh in which she explained that King David found himself trapped in a cave many times throughout his life. Each time he found himself in a cave, there was a refining process that occurred in his life. It seemed that his “cave situations” were due to two very different scenarios. In one scenario he made bad and sinful choices that caused him to become trapped in a cave. In the other scenario, he found himself trapped in a cave due to circumstances outside of his control.

In our current life scenario, while experiencing a global pandemic, I believe all of us can find ourselves in scenario number two. Due to circumstances outside of our own control, we find ourselves trapped inside our own homes.

Enjoying the good life of our “stay-cation.”

It seems that a refining process may be at work in many of our lives; at least I am aware of it in my own life. I’ve been thinking about this cave analogy as the first week of social distancing turned into two weeks, and now three weeks. As an extrovert, pieces of my “stay-cation” are now beginning to get old. I have found myself seeking more contact with people this week via Voxer, Skype, and Messenger. I have noticed that my irritation threshold is much lower than it was in the beginning. I’ve found myself feeling bored and restless, as many of the distractions that keep me busy and hurried are taking a hiatus.

On the positive side, as social distancing continues, I am finding that I have more opportunity to choose quality time with my family. I have more time to read. I have more time to garden, go on family walks, or enjoy the peace of my goldfish pond. I also have more time to train my kids on the things that I usually brush off: cooking with them, watching their trampoline tricks, and reading a novel aloud as a family.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all “Little House on the Prairie” at my house. Having four boys at home all of the time means the noise, chaos, and aggression factor in our home is at an all-time high. Brothers love hard and fight harder. Even this however, may be a blessing in disguise. What an opportunity to model confession, reconciliation, and forgiveness! Not perfectly mind you, I have lost my cool multiple times already this week. Still, if my kids need to learn how to forgive and manage their anger, I’d rather they do it now as children than have to learn it later on in life when the stakes are higher.

I have also realized anew how much I seek stimulation from my phone. Quiet is uncomfortable for me. I would much rather browse Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter than sit alone with my thoughts. I very quickly turn on podcasts or Youtube when I have moments of downtime. I have even bought Disney+ to help keep all of us entertained and occupied for the month. While none of these pursuits are inherently bad, I am becoming more and more aware that stillness often feels like boredom to me. Quiet is uncomfortable, and it takes practice to enjoy it.

I guess what I’m saying is this: we have all been put in a refining situation, but we can choose how much we will allow ourselves to be refined. Isaiah 30:15, pictured above, is one of my favorite verses. The Lord entreats the people of Israel to come to Him. He tells them that in returning and rest they will find salvation and in quietness and trust they will find their strength.

Returning, rest, quietness, and trust, these are the attributes I want to develop during this time at home. These are attributes that, in Christ, move us away from fear, hurry, and worry, and towards renewal. I am still admittedly a work in progress on this front, but these are my personal hopes for my mandatory “stay-cation.”

Pause: Take a deep belly breath and slowly exhale. Meditate on Isaiah 30:15. What about this passage stands out to you?

Renew: What are you noticing about yourself during this time of social distancing? How has your life changed? Where do you notice you’re turning for comfort and entertainment?

Next: How can you begin to cultivate the attributes of Returning, Rest, Quietness, and Trust, during this time of social distancing? Take time to pray and journal about it.

May we allow ourselves to be refined and renewed.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Pencils and Possibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think your pencil holds?

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

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

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

Next: What will you draw today?

Worry: Friend or Foe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our goldfish pond

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

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

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

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

Pause, Renew, Next!

Rupture and Repair

I will never forget that moment.

My two year old son stared at me, stricken. I don’t remember the events that led up to the moment, although I’m sure it had something to do with being an exhausted mom of two small boys. There was probably a meltdown or two involved. What I do remember is that I yelled, loudly, in response to the misbehavior of my incredibly sweet and wild toddler. The toddler who now stood looking at me as if I was a monster.

His shocked face crumpled, and he began to sob. “You scared me, Mommy!,” he wailed. The truth was, I had scared myself too! I had not been prepared for the stress and strains of emotion that parenting would require. Growing up with a sister, I felt ill-equipped for the physicality and noise level that little boys brought into our home. I had not set out to be a yelling Mom. How could I love someone so much that I would give my life for them and be boiling angry with them at the same time?

This is the perplexity of motherhood.

My sweet boy with the bright blue eyes

As my son sobbed, he ran towards me, seeking comfort. I knelt down, scooped him up, and hugged him for all I was worth. “I’m sorry buddy,” I crooned. “Mommy should not have yelled that way. I didn’t mean to scare you.” I patted his back and rocked him back and forth. Soon, he hiccuped a few last sobs and, feeling secure and safe again, ran off to play.

Just like that, our ruptured relationship was repaired.

Relationships are hard, and we often make mistakes along the way. In fact, ruptures in our relationships are inevitable. Sometimes these ruptures occur because we intentionally make poor choices. Sometimes they occur due to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Sometimes they occur because of plain old sin.

I’ve heard it said that parents get it right about 50% of the time. This dismal success rate, however, does not mean that you can’t be a successful parent. You don’t have to be a perfect parent or spouse to provide a secure attachment. You just have to be a “good enough” parent or spouse. Relationships can survive and thrive even after ruptures. Sometimes they even come out stronger.

It’s the repair work that makes all the difference.

When you know that a rupture has occurred in a relationship: a hurt, a slight, a sin, or a miscommunication, it is important to go back and make it right. Sometimes this looks like an apology, and sometimes it looks like correcting a misunderstanding. Sometimes it looks like showing support verbally, and sometimes it looks like a hug. Whatever it looks like, the message is clear: “You matter to me, and our relationship matters to me.” This repair work creates safety, trust, and intimacy.

Repair work is the message of the gospel. Christ came to bridge the gap of our sin and do the repair work for us, so that we would be united with our Father. In Him, we can experience the felt safety we so desire.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Read the above verse and consider how confessing our sins and praying for one another helps to repair relationships.

Renew: Think about your own relationships. What repair work have you recently experienced? Is there currently a relationship in which some repair work is needed? What might this look like?

Next: If you’d like to learn more about rupture and repair, watch this video of Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of The Connected Child, discussing repair work in parenting.

May we revel in the forgiveness and second chances that repair work provides for us.

Pause, Renew, Next!

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