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Category: Blog (Page 2 of 7)

Regulation, Integration, and Soul Care

It was on the third day of an 8-day overseas mission trip that I found myself losing patience. I managed to make it through the jet lag of a six-hour time difference, the money exchange, a broken-down van, meeting new people in a new culture, and beginning the ministry portion of our trip, before my overwhelming exhaustion made itself evident in my behavior. I found myself feeling irritable, overly critical, easily offended, and misunderstood. I reacted to issues that I normally would have let slide. I responded in anger to well-meaning family members.

Jet lag, excitement, and travel adventures…

As my sister-in-law and I were getting ready for bed later that night, I mused, “Wow, today was not great. I got into two arguments today, and I just cannot believe I said those things.” She nodded, agreeing that she had noticed my attitude, and asked, “Are you talking about what you said to Nathan earlier?”

“No,” I laughed, flabbergasted at myself, “I wasn’t even counting that whole thing. Make that three arguments.” Clearly, it was time for me to go to bed and start a new day.

By the time I woke up the next morning, life seemed more manageable again.

That’s what exhaustion does to us. It takes us to a place where we no longer feel regulated and integrated. We begin to feel dysregulated and disintegrated: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and even relationally.

  • Dysregulation: abnormality or impairment in the regulation of a metabolic, physiological, or psychological process.
  • Disintegration: the process of losing cohesion or strength; the process of coming to pieces.

We are not just spiritual beings, or relational beings, or physical beings, or emotional beings, or thinking beings. We are souls, comprised of all of these layers. When one of these areas becomes disintegrated, it tends to affect the other layers as well. For example, if my body is depleted of energy, then my emotions and relationships are affected by the exhaustion as well.

Dallas Willard’s model of the soul

Dallas Willard, author of Renovation of the Heart, developed a holistic model of the soul as being comprised of all the layers of the self. In other words, we are created as integrated beings, a sum of all of our parts. All of these layers affect the others. For instance, if I have a headache, it is my body affected by pain, but I will find myself with less emotional, spiritual, and relational bandwidth as my physical pain takes the majority of my focus.

If I am disintegrated relationally, due to a conflict or abuse, I will probably find that not only my relationship is affected, but my mind is also affected by feelings and thoughts about the hurt I’ve experienced. My body may also be affected, as I find myself crying, or holding muscle tension from the stress of the conflict.

Often in Christian circles, we talk about spirituality as if it is separate from the other three layers. As if bodily issues, or our thoughts/emotions, or our relationships are separate from our spirits. Yet, the Lord created us as physical beings. Jesus was born into a physical world where he suffered physical hurts, he experienced human relationships, and he had thoughts and emotions. Even our new lives in heaven will be lived in glorified bodies. There, we will still be physical. We will eat. We will love. However, in our glorified bodies, we will be fully integrated, with no sin, pain, physical or emotional exhaustion left to disintegrate us.

For now though, in these real, physical bodies that we are blessed to live in, we need to give ourselves and others grace. It is easy to become depleted and disintegrated. We must give ourselves permission to pause and rest, allowing ourselves to renew and recharge. And of course, we can always seek forgiveness for hardships and misunderstandings that were caused when we were feeling dysregulated. Soul care requires caring for the whole self: relationships, body, mind, and spirit.

Pause: Take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Quiet your mind and your heart; then meditate on the verse above, Psalm 107:9.

Renew: As you read this verse, contemplate how the Lord satisfies your longing soul and fills your hungry soul with good things. How does He provide for you in each of the following areas: in your relationships, in your body, in your mind (thoughts and emotions), and in your spirit?

Next: If you have found yourself feeling disintegrated lately, take time to think about which layers of your soul feel affected. Try to enact one form of soul care this week and give yourself the grace and rest you need as you work towards feeling more integrated again.

May your longing soul be filled with the good things God provides… …even rest.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Following Me

Many moons ago, at the beginning of my marriage and before I had children, I found myself with too much time on my hands. Given my current life situation, having too much time seems like a foreign concept. At that time, however, while my husband was at work, I had many lonely hours to fill each day. One of my favorite ways to pass the hours was to visit the park near our home and stroll the walking trail there.

Sometimes I would visit the park by myself, listening to the radio as I walked. On days that I felt up to the adventure, I would take my black lab-mix puppy, Todd, with me to walk the trail. He was always filled with pent-up energy and excitement, and without exception he would end up pulling me around the trail. It was not uncommon to be stopped by a passerby who would jokingly ask, “Are you walking him, or is he walking you?”

Sometimes, on weekends, my husband would join us for walks at the park. One Saturday morning, as we were loading our dog into the car, unexpectedly our cat, Squeedunk, jumped into the car too. Now, most logical cat owners would have lovingly taken their cat back out of the car, knowing that cats are not designed for strolls at the park. We were not those cat owners. Young, naive, and curious, we decided to take him with us and see what would happen.

When we got to the park, Todd jumped out of the vehicle, and my husband quickly put a leash around his neck, preparing him for our walk. Squeedunk jumped out of the vehicle too. We did not put a leash around his neck. As my curiosity was replaced by anxiety, I reassured myself that we only lived a mile from the park. Surely, if we lost our cat, he would find his way back home.

We began our walk and slowly, trailing us by 20 feet, our cat began strolling as well. Todd, our dog, pulled us excitedly down the trail, sniffing all of the smells and chasing passing squirrels. As we walked, my husband and I took turns sneaking peaks behind us. Steadily, in his own time, Squeedunk sauntered down the trail behind us. Just as one would expect, he stalked us in feline fashion, trailing nonchalantly, looking like he had other things he could be doing. He continued to follow us for the entire mile-long walking trail.

As we returned to the parking lot, Squeedunk walked over to us and allowed me to pick him up and put him back in the car for the ride home. It was an interesting experience to say the least. We never pressed our luck by trying it a second time.

What if goodness and mercy follow us in a similarly unexpected way? The lyricist David, ends Psalm 23, promising:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:6 ESV

Following me. All the days of my life. How often do we pay attention to the way that the Lord’s goodness and mercy are following us? Is it easy for you to see the evidence of it?

I think there are seasons where the goodness and mercy in my life seem so evident that rather than casually following me, it feels they are hunting me down. Then, other times, like my cat, they seem to be trailing far behind. I find myself wondering if they are even still there. I can’t always see their evidence in the moment. Still, as I look back, almost always in hindsight, I find they have been there all along.

Sometimes goodness and mercy come in the form of tangible blessings, like money I wasn’t expecting. Sometimes they come in the form of protection, like a near-missed collision on the highway. Sometimes they arrive in the form of an opportunity, like a job or a calling. Sometimes, they show up as simply as my son’s hug and kiss at bedtime.

Regardless of how they arrive, goodness and mercy always come as love and provision from a God who infinitely cares for us all the days of our lives. What surprises of goodness and mercy are trailing you today?

Pause: Inhale and slowly exhale. Take a moment to quiet your mind. Slowly read Psalm 23 through once or twice. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: Take time to meditate or journal about how you have seen God’s goodness and mercy following you. Write down the large and the small ways you find evidence for goodness and mercy in your life.

Next: Keep your eyes open this week for ways that you see goodness and mercy. What you pay attention to changes your focus. As you pay attention to finding goodness and mercy, you will no doubt find them.

May we have joy on the adventure of life, knowing that goodness and mercy are following after us.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Fighting Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Skylar Sahakian on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

Pause, Renew, Next!

Look Mom, It’s Christmas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May you experience the love and joy of our Savior.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Peace Like a River

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

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

For this is what the LORD says:

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

Isaiah 66:12a NIV

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

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

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

Luke 2: 13 – 14 NIV

Peace to those on whom his favor rests.

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause, Renew, Next!

Almost There

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

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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

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

Isaiah 9: 6-7 ESV

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

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

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

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

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

May you be filled with Hope this Advent season.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Burning Timber

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

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

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

The tree was almost as wide as I am tall!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause, Renew, Next!

Hope: An Anchor for the Soul

Years ago, I felt the Lord whisper a promise in my soul.  It was a sweet promise of a gift that would come. He did not tell me how.  He did not tell me when. Somehow I just knew it was true though. I could feel it in my heart.

I prayed off and on for years over the matter.  I prepared myself both in my spirit and in practical ways, waiting for the moment it would occur, but it never did.  Just when I would begin to think I had made the whole thing up, somehow the Lord would confirm it to me again through Scripture or a sermon.  One time, he even confirmed it through a conversation with a stranger while on vacation. Still, time passed, and nothing happened.  

This month, during a vulnerable conversation with a friend I confided in her this promise the Lord had whispered.  Rather than shaking her head in disbelief, she said, “I have a similar story,” and as she shared it, it really did seem that our stories aligned closely.  Happily, her whispered promise is in the process of coming into fruition.

Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it anymore.  I don’t even pray about it regularly. I know that, if it is to happen, the Lord will bring it about, and it probably will come about differently than I expect anyway.

This makes me think of Abraham.  The Lord gave him and his wife a promise of something that seemed impossible: a baby in their sunset years.  What seemed ridiculous at age 75 must have seemed unimaginable as he approached ages 80, 85, 90, and 95. Perhaps he thought he had imagined the whole thing.  In fact, because the waiting was too hard, and his faith was so small, he and his wife set out to accomplish the Lord’s will in their own timing. Abraham had a son with his wife’s handmaid. We all know how that turned out. Trying to accomplish God’s will for Him is foolish indeed.

Finally, at age 100, Abraham’s promised son arrived.  He was the beginning of a long-awaited line of chosen people, through whom the Lord would send His Son.  He was worth the wait.

In Hebrews 6, the author references Abraham’s story as he writes about inheriting a promise. However, this time, a more permanent promise is spoken of using the language of hope:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner…

Hebrews 6: 19 – 20a CSB

We have reason to hope. As believers, we have hope in a great promise that includes redemption, forgiveness, new bodies, and eternal life. Jesus has entered before us, and hope anchors our soul as we wait for what is coming.  Hope is a beautiful thing. It rises up and holds our souls steady as we wait for the promise to be fulfilled.

Our anchor of Hope is solid. it’s not going anywhere.

Pause: Inhale and exhale slowly.  Find a quiet space to read Hebrews 6: 13-20.  Meditate on these verses. What stands out to you?

Renew: Think about hope as an anchor for the soul.  What are you hoping for? Who are you hoping in? How is thinking about hope as an anchor for your soul reassuring?

Next: Hebrews encourages us to “seize the hope set before us.”  How in your faith walk can you “seize hope” this week? Is it by clinging to a particular Scripture verse,  by praying through a seemingly impossible situation, or by acting obediently on something the Lord has called you to do?  

May we cling tightly to our anchor of hope.

Pause, Renew, Next!

When Grief Wells Up

There I was, listening to two first graders give a family presentation in front of their classmates when out of the blue, grief smacked me hard in the belly.  During their presentation, the girls shared that they had been born in 2013. Just like that, I was transported back in time, to a miscarriage I experienced that year. Incredulously, I realized that my baby would now be in kindergarten.  He or she could be giving a class presentation. Grief is funny like that. It comes in waves unexpectedly and reels us backwards into the past, allowing old feelings and sometimes tears to spring to the surface at the most inconvenient times.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago while at an OB/GYN appointment. I was left in the examination room waiting for the doctor when, from the room next door, I heard the familiar whooshing, horse-beat sounds of a baby’s heartbeat.  Again, I felt emotions normally buried come rising to the surface with memories of the last time I heard a heart beat monitor…

I was at my first prenatal exam, and it was a routine ultrasound.  I had given birth to healthy babies three times, and there was no reason to expect that this fourth pregnancy would not be the same… …until I heard the heartbeat.  It was strong. It was steady, but it sounded unnaturally slow. I looked at the ultrasound technician, who agreed that it was slower than it should be. I was then ushered in to see the midwife, who was not gentle about preparing me for the worst.  Very little hope was offered. I was scheduled to return in a week for a follow-up ultrasound.

You can imagine what an awful week I had.  I left the appointment hysterically crying into my phone, telling my husband the news.  Over the following week, I felt every emotion possible: from hope, to gratitude, to sadness, to despair, to fear, to anger, and back again.  Mother’s Day happened to fall in the middle of that week, which definitely did not help matters.

Finally, I returned for my follow up appointment, this time bringing my husband for support.  There was no heartbeat. There were no longer any signs of life in the same womb, where the week before, I had seen my child and heard her heartbeat.

We were crushed. We grieved.  We cried. We explained the best we could to our children. We wrote a letter to our unborn baby, and packed her ultrasound pictures and the letters away. 

Soon, we began to prepare for a new future: one in which new life would come to our home through foster care and adoption. Hope was ushered in. Life continued.  New life was celebrated. Gratitude was felt.

Still, I think about the baby I lost.  I think about her when I think about heaven.  What will it be like to meet? I think about her at Christmas, because her due date was Christmas Eve.  I think about her when other friends are having babies. I do not grieve as one who has no hope. It isn’t something I think about every day, but it is imprinted on my soul. The Lord taught me much about His comfort through my loss.

So, for those of you who have also lost a baby, know that you are not alone. We are the 1 in 4.  Grieve. Tell your story. Reach out. It’s a grief that not enough people talk about, but many have experienced.  It is a grief that can be triggered unexpectedly and will touch your soul forever. May you be comforted by a Savior who counts every tear, and who loves your baby as much as you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

2 Corinthians 1: 3-5

Pause, Renew, Next!

What’s In a Number?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 6: 19-21 NASB

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause, Renew, Next!

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