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Category: Blog (Page 2 of 8)

Solitude? Do I have to?

This fall I have found a new favorite show to enjoy with my husband: the History Channel series, Alone. If you haven’t seen it, the show is all about wilderness survival in harsh and desolate climates. Ten contestants are dropped off in remote locations with limited supplies, and they compete to see who can live off the land longest using their own survival skills. They do all of this, you guessed it, alone.

The fact that I like this show is surprising given the fact that, for me, being alone anywhere for days or weeks at a time sounds like a nightmare. This extrovert enjoys alone time in short chunks only, yet there’s something almost therapeutic about watching people use their skills in the beauty and majesty of nature’s wilderness. Without having to leave the comfort of my living room, I can vicariously experience a little piece of nature. A few moments of solitude. (Nevermind that there are wild animals, starvation, and injuries…the idea of the wilderness is therapeutic anyway!)

The Lord keeps bringing me back to this idea of quiet and solitude. In some ways I find myself craving it. However, practically the minute that I find myself in silence, I immediately begin filling the space with noise or busyness. There’s always a to-do list to accomplish, a podcast to listen to, an email to write, a playlist to create, a message to respond to, or a social media app to check. Quiet and solitude just do not come easily to us humans, especially not in the modern age where there are distractions at every turn.

I’m coming to realize that the practice of solitude is something I’ll have to cultivate.

Jesus lived many years before cell phones or social media, yet he was a popular and wanted man. Everywhere he went, crowds gathered. From the time he woke up to the time he went to sleep, busyness could have enveloped him. Really, if anyone had an excuse to be busy, it was Jesus. After all, He understood that He only had 3 years to accomplish His ministry on earth. Still, in Luke 5, we see that He intentionally took time to slip away to quiet places to pray.

Jesus cultivated solitude. He carved out space and time to commune with His Father alone.

In no way can I relate to crowds following me from town to town like Jesus experienced. I can however, relate to four children needing me from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. I can relate to being present for clients who are in crisis. I can relate to writing and podcasting for the edification of others and sometimes feeling depleted myself. That’s what servant leadership is all about: being poured out and continually refilled. It seems that a key part of the refilling process which keeps us from burning out is the practice of solitude.

In the quiet hours with Jesus, He restores my soul.

In his book, The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen writes: “We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord. Without such a desert we will lose our own soul while preaching the gospel to others.”

As a mother, I can attest that there have been seasons when I have had little to no solitude. When you are the mother of littles, naptime may be the only quiet time you get the entire day. The days of caregiving can be long and exhausting, and the few moments of quiet you have may easily turn into a short snooze. Yet, even in those quickly snatched moments of rest, the Lord has restored my soul. Sometimes solitude may look like rest.

In no way am I writing this blog post as an expert on solitude. Far from it. I am at the beginning of learning how to cultivate solitude in my own life. As I embark, I hope you will join me in turning off the noise when it becomes too much. In going outside and taking a breath and enjoying nature. In talking to Jesus in the quiet spaces of your day. I can’t wait to hear the creative ways you incorporate solitude into your life rhythm.

Pause: Take a deep belly breath and slowly exhale. Take a moment and consider Luke 5:16. What stands out to you about Jesus setting aside time to be in the wilderness to pray?

Renew: What is hard for you about solitude? Is it the idea of being still and quiet? Is it the demands of the day? When you are able to sit in stillness, what do you notice about your prayer life?

Next: Consider ways that you might carve out moments of solitude in your daily routine. Get creative! Mrs. Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley, famously put her head under her apron to escape her 12 children and pray when she needed a break!

May we learn to quiet our minds and hearts in the quiet places of solitude.

Pause, Renew, Next!

The Upside Down Kingdom

Last Sunday afternoon, our church small group met at a park. As our children played on the playground nearby, the adults circled around in our lawn chairs and cracked open our Bibles. We are reading through the book of Mark, and that afternoon, the end of Mark Chapter 1 grabbed my attention. In that passage, Jesus healed a leper and then firmly told the newly-healed man not to tell anyone that he had been healed by Jesus. Of course, the man did the very opposite of this and went around proclaiming everywhere that he had been miraculously healed by this man, Jesus.

But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.

Mark 1:45 NASB

Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city. His fame preceded Him, but He had actively tried to prevent it. What kind of a leader subverts his fame and authority by asking people not to talk about him? What kind of platform builder stays in unpopulated areas? What kind of King comes to announce himself by healing the marginalized: the women, the outcasts, the sick, and the demon-possessed?

The kind of King who comes with an upside down Kingdom, that’s who.

Much of my adult walk with the Lord has been spent carefully inspecting what I’ve been taught about Jesus and the Gospel and studying the Scriptures to discover who He is for myself. I am especially captivated with the imagery Jesus uses to describe who He is and what His kingdom is all about. He seemed to do this most through the questions He asked and the stories He told. Most of the time, it seems He left his disciples with more questions than answers, and it’s no surprise. His Kingdom is perplexing. It is upside down. It absolutely flies in the face of everything we as humans are taught about greatness, leadership, fame, and reward.

  • In God’s Kingdom, power is perfected in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • In God’s Kingdom, the last shall be first. Matthew 19:30
  • The Kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit. Matthew 5:3
  • In God’s Kingdom, losing your life is the way to find it. Matthew 10:39
  • In God’s Kingdom, neighbors love each other like they love themselves. Matthew 22:39
  • In the Kingdom of Heaven, humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:33
  • Members of the Kingdom of God save up heavenly treasures, not earthly ones. Matthew 16:20

In this upside down, unexpected Kingdom, the King arrived as a tiny baby in an outskirt town, raised as a carpenter’s son. He chose twelve unqualified disciples to mentor. He was wrongfully arrested and didn’t fight back. He was crucified, and rather than staying dead and buried, He had the audacity to resurrect and beat death at its own game.

The Kingdom that Jesus ushered in is by all standards a paradox. It is a Kingdom of already and not yet. His Kingdom cannot be shaken, but remains invisible to the naked eye. It has been at work for 2,000 years, but is not yet glorified in its fulfilled, tangible state.

I often pray that the Lord would give me eyes to see and ears to hear His Kingdom at work.

Because it is, you know. It’s at work all of the time, whether we are aware or not.

Its evidence is rarely obvious. It doesn’t often show up in signs and wonders. Rather, we more often see it in the wide-eyed, innocent trust of small children. We can see it in the endurance of saints persecuted around the world. We can see it in the hard choices of loving difficult people. We can see it in the beauty of adoption. We can see it in lives transformed through the Gospel.

However, there is another kingdom also at work. It is an earthly kingdom where power, fame, strength, and beauty reign. In this kingdom, everyone looks out for their own interests. In this kingdom, one must manipulate or out-perform others to get ahead. In this kingdom, everyone must make a name for themselves. In this kingdom, lust and greed are not just everyday occurrences, they are glorified. Do not be deceived. These are the lullabies that rock us to sleep on our TVs, our smart phones, and our social media feeds.

As the kingdoms of this world contend for our attention, let’s not forget there’s another Kingdom at work. It’s coming is sure. We can bank on it.

Pause, Renew, Next: Take a quiet moment and consider: how does God’s kingdom differ from the way normal kingdoms are run? Where do you see His Kingdom at work around you?

Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to see where Your Kingdom is at work around us. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Face to Face

Did you know that your interactions with others take place mostly through nonverbal communication? At an often subconscious level, our brains are taking cues from others. We notice body language, tone of voice, shifts in mood, and facial expressions. In fact, our brains process facial expressions and tone of voice before processing the words being spoken to us.

We are designed and wired this way from birth. Infants come into the world primed and ready for attachment with a primary care giver. It is no accident that newborn babies can see 8-12 inches, the exact distance from a loving mother’s arms to her eyes. From this place of feeding and cuddling, the baby gazes at his mother’s face, discerning love and care. From the consistency of these face to face, loving interactions, the infant begins to conclude, “I am precious. I am valuable. My voice matters. My needs will be taken care of.”

I had to throw in a sweet baby picture for good measure!

Our Creator designed us to take cues from others and to communicate at a deep level through facial expression. How confusing then, that we are unable to see His face. We are for all intents and purposes trying to spiritually attach to a Heavenly Father who is invisible. We cannot see Him.

As a teenager, I remember complaining to my Mom that faith in Jesus would be easier if He would just come and sit down with me. I wanted to see Him and touch Him. She remarked that I reminded her of her friend Robin, who would often say similar things, wishing to see God’s “skin-face.”

Truly, Jesus did have a skin-face. He was a man of flesh and blood who walked the earth. Some lived to see Him and tell the story (I John 1:1). However, for those of us who believe without seeing, faith is necessary to fill in the gaps.

The Lord does describe Himself as our attachment figure. Throughout Scripture, the Lord writes of Himself as a Father and sometimes even uses motherly imagery. He is not distant and far off, but He longs to draw near to His children. He longs to provide for them, to love them, and to care for them. He is the ultimate attachment figure, and He hasn’t forgotten about the importance of His face in expressing this love to us.

I absolutely adore the priestly blessing in Numbers 6. When I was growing up, my pastor would pray it over our congregation as a benediction. I have prayed it over my children and my foster children numerous times over the years. It is rich, deep, and beautiful. The Lord Himself gave this blessing to Aaron, priest of the Israelites, to pray over the people of Israel.

The LORD bless you, and keep you;

The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up His countenance on you,

And give you peace.

Numbers 6: 24-26

Did you see it? He talked about His face! With all the words of blessing the Lord could have spoken over His people, He purposely spoke about His face. He wanted to make His face shine on His people. He wanted to lift up His countenance on them. These are signature moves of love and care. He is bestowing favor and love to His children through His face.

I believe wholeheartedly that one day I will see my Savior and Creator face to face and it will be magnificent. I will see His facial expressions, I will hear His tone of voice, and I will get to touch Him. For now, I can hold on to Scripture, the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and the love found in the Body of Christ to help fill in the gaps.

We can also rely on our imaginations, which are God-given resources. Richard J. Foster, author of the Celebration of Discipline, writes about using imagination to help meditate upon the text of Scripture. Although I cannot see God’s face, I can imagine how He might speak to me. I can imagine His facial expression. Many times, I have pretended Jesus was sitting next to me in the car when I was deep in prayer. It helps me ground the conversation to the present in a real and meaningful way. In what ways do you incorporate imagination into your faith walk?

Pause: Take a deep belly breath and slowly exhale. When you’re ready, read back through the blessing in Numbers 6 written above. What resonates with you from this passage?

Renew: How does this topic challenge or change the way you’ve thought about your relationship with God? Have you ever thought of Him as an attachment figure in your life? Journal and pray through your thoughts about this topic.

Next: In the coming days and weeks, try using your imagination to meditate on passages of Scripture. How does the text come alive as you dwell on it?

May we feel the radiance of His countenance, friends!

Pause, Renew, Next!

There’s Always Room for One More

I come from a small family. I have one sister and no cousins. Therefore, I did not grow up going to large family reunions. By contrast, my husband has seventeen aunts and uncles and countless cousins. Family reunions in his family are loud and joyous affairs.

My introduction to this dynamic came a few months after we were engaged. His grandparents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and I was graciously invited to attend the celebration. There was lots of food, family, friends, and stories shared from the past. Near the end of the evening, one particular story began to unfold.

My husband’s grandparents were asked to stand on the stage, as a narrator began to tell the story of their life together. As they reached the part of their marriage story where they had children together, all of their sons and daughters joined them on the stage. Then, their children got married, so all of the spouses joined them on the stage. Then, they had grandchildren and all of the grandchildren joined them on the stage. At this point, there were probably more people on the stage than there were left in the audience.

The narrator announced that their family motto was: “There’s always room for one more.” At this point, they announced our engagement and asked me to also join the family on the stage. It was a warm, welcoming feeling to be included in such a legacy story. It feels good to be welcomed into a family.

There’s always room for one more. This phrase signifies inclusion. It signifies welcome. It signifies an open door. As far as family mottos go, this is a fantastic one. Now, let’s imagine: What if this was not just a family motto, but the message of the church? What if this was the message of our small groups or Bible studies?

Jesus spent his life ministering to and teaching a group of rag-tag disciples. He seemed to collect followers wherever he went. He didn’t seem to be bothered by them. In fact, it seemed he went out of his way to find them. Jesus didn’t even send them away when they ran out of food (Matthew 14). His disciples were afraid at the lack of provision and began to worry. They wondered, will there be enough? The self-preservation instinct will always get in the way of inviting new people in. Jesus, however, took the food that was, and multiplied it, providing enough for everyone. No one was hungry and no one was sent away.

As Christ followers, we are the light of the world and a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14). It’s awfully hard to hide light on a hilltop. It serves as an advertisement to everyone for miles: there’s provision here.

At this moment in history our American culture is divided and fragmented. I wish I could say that it didn’t seem to be affecting the Christians, but it does. Social media is a war zone of differing opinions. Instead of spreading a table for everyone, often we’re guilty of spreading tables for only those who share our likeness or values.

How, as the family of Christ, can we send out the banner: there’s always room for one more? This table isn’t closed. It isn’t ugly, divisive, or hypocritical. It’s where Life and Peace can be found. All are welcome here. We are brothers. We are sisters. We are sons and daughters of the King. Come, join us!

During this season of fear and anger, let us remember: the Kingdom of God is alive and well. The Holy Spirit is in the business of bringing new people to the table. Let us join arms as a family and be ready to welcome them with open arms.

Pause: Take a deep belly breath and slowly exhale. When you’re ready, read through the above verse a few times. What stands out to you about this verse?

Renew: Take a minute to evaluate your own life. In what ways and by what people have you been made to feel welcome? How did this affect you? In what ways and at what times do you try to make others feel welcome?

Next: As we collectively navigate a pandemic and divisive election, how can we go about treating each other with honor and provide welcome to new believers? What could that look like in our churches? What could that look like in your life?

May we remember the joy of being welcomed into the family of God and share that joy with others.

Pause, Renew, Next!

A Threat

A few years ago, I found myself in a testing and trying season. Physically, it felt like my body was falling apart. I was seeing multiple health professionals, trying to find answers to unexplained pain. It was a difficult time and one that left me both spiritually exhausted and also spiritually dependent. It seems that the hardest times can also be the sweetest times in our walk with Jesus. Looking back on that season, I remember many, many moments when the Lord met me at just the right time to remind me that He was still there. I want to share one of those moments with you today.

In the midst of struggling with multiple health problems, a new one unexpectedly arose. I went for a female wellness checkup and after examining me, the doctor decided to send me for a follow up mammogram. I explained to the doctor that no breast cancer runs in my family. Also, I was young and had just finished nursing my third child. Surely, there was no reason to be concerned. She did not placate my fears, but instead said that breast cancer could happen to anyone and it was better to be safe than sorry.

With this proclamation, my anxiety rose dramatically. I thought that with all that the Lord had allowed me to suffer physically over the past year, He wouldn’t add breast cancer to the mix. Right?

I prayed. I talked to my husband. Still, doubt and fear were present.

Sometime that week I woke up in the middle of the night. This in and of itself was strange, because I hardly ever wake up in the night. Since I couldn’t sleep, I walked out to the living room and sat down by the window. Looking out, I saw what looked like a small fire burning in the woods behind our house. Without my glasses or contacts I couldn’t be sure, so I kept staring and squinting, telling myself that it made no sense for there to be a fire in the woods. What else could it be? I could come up with no explanations.

I got up, put on my contacts, and woke my husband. “I see something in the woods, and I think it’s a fire.” He came to the window and agreed that it did indeed look like a small fire.

We put on our shoes, left our boys sleeping peacefully in their beds, and hiked down into the woods to find out what was on fire. We soon reached the burning remains of a stump. My father-in-law, who lives next door, had cut down a huge tree and was burning out the insides of the remainder of the stump. It had continued burning through the night and was visible from our house.

There we stood, in the middle of the night, on a gravel path, in the midst of a forest, next to a burning stump. The fire was burning contentedly inside the rim of the old tree, looking like a happy little campfire. I turned to my husband and asked if he thought it was safe to leave it burning. He said that yes, it was safe, and we should leave it burning.

As we hiked back in the dark, I felt the Lord impress a word on my spirit. “There is a threat, but it is contained.” The fire could be a threat, but it was contained within the rim of the burned out stump. He had woken me up in the middle of the night, to hike out into the woods, to remind me that my threats were contained too. Yes, it seemed that my body was under threat, but he had the threats contained. I would be safe.

Sure enough, the mammogram turned out fine. My body continued to have pains and problems, but eventually I received a diagnosis of joint hypermobility and have found ways to manage and stabilize these joints so that the pain has diminished.

However, I know that in this world, there will always be threats: physical, emotional, financial, and social. The Lord didn’t promise safety without threats. That night in the woods, He assured me that there was a threat, but that He had it contained. In other words, He’s got it under control.

In this season of unrest and fear, this serves as a reminder to me of His faithfulness. There is nothing outside the boundary of His sovereignty. I hope it encourages you as well. He’s got it all under control.

Pause, Renew, Next: Take a moment to breathe deeply and slowly exhale. Think back over your own walk with Jesus. At what points have you found Him to be present and faithful in difficult seasons? If you’ve never journaled about these moments, take some time to write them down. Remembering His faithfulness is a wonderful way to fight fear and build faith during uncertain times.

Embodied Faith: Engaging the Senses

One of my children is a kinesthetic learner. He experiences the world by engaging with it physically and often in up close and messy ways. He doesn’t learn by casually observing, but by touching and moving. This became apparent to us a few years ago, while visiting the Coke Museum in Atlanta.

When exiting the museum, each guest is given a complimentary miniature glass bottle of Coca-Cola, wrapped in a plastic bag. Each of my children was overjoyed to be given their own bottle of Coke. As we walked down the sidewalk away from the museum, I was shocked and surprised by the sound of glass shattering on the cement pavement. My kinesthetic child had dropped his bottle of coke on the pavement.

I soon found out it was no accident. He had dropped his bottle of Coke on purpose. He explained that he had wondered what would happen if the bottle hit the ground, so he dropped it to find out. My emotions in that moment ran along the lines of embarrassment, anger, and confusion, but my husband quickly turned to me and astutely assessed the situation: “I think he has to experience the world to learn. For him, just thinking and observing isn’t enough. He has to engage it physically and learn from it.”

Parenting challenges aside, in some ways aren’t we all built this way? God designed us to experience and engage the world with our five senses, and it is through these five senses that we learn, make memories, and draw conclusions.

Because God designed us to engage the world with our senses, Jesus appealed to these very senses when He walked the earth. He broke bread. He washed feet. He told parables. He healed the sick and the blind, and He did all of this with a human body ministering to other human bodies.

The Apostle John proclaimed the good news of Christ’s coming in this way:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—

I John 1:1 ESV

“Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands…” John is remembering and appealing to his audience the truth of Jesus based on the evidence of his senses. He is saying, “I was there. I remember Him. I saw Him, I heard Him, and I touched Him.” Can you even imagine what a privilege it would have been to have seen, heard, and touched Jesus?

I think many of us are taught, or somehow learn as we grow and age, that all of our senses are not needed in our spiritual lives. After all, how many senses do you actually need in order to read the Bible? Yet, our bodies are designed to learn using all of the senses. This is important in our faith lives, just as it is in every other area of our lives. Sensory experiences enrich and deepen not just our faith experiences, but also how we make spiritual memories.

So, for just a few moments, I want to challenge you to begin thinking about some ways that you already engage your faith with your senses and potentially add a few new ideas as well.

Sight: Most of us engage sight in our everyday faith lives by reading the Bible, but there are many other ways that we can do it as well. Another way is by spending time in nature, visually appreciating and taking in the beauty of creation. Beauty of many kinds, both through nature or through pieces of fine art can stir and awaken in us awe for God.

Touch: Jesus spent a lot of time touching: through healing, through washing feet, and by holding children. There are many ways that we too can use touch in our faith lives: hugging our friends in Christ, feeling the weight of our Bible in our hands as we read, using prayer beads or making a prayer shawl (I have made prayer stones for myself), baptism, washing feet, or holding hands as we pray. These are just a few examples of how touch can be used in our faith lives.

Hearing: For centuries and centuries, common people did not have access to the Word of God. They relied on hearing it from pastors and priests, or on passing it down through word of mouth. Although the ability to access the Bible so easily now is a great blessing, we are really missing out on some of the oral traditions of the past. Reading Scripture out loud is one way to incorporate hearing in our faith lives. Music and worship are also incredible ways to experience our faith through rich sound waves.

Smell: In the Old Testament, incense and burning sacrifices were ways that many of God’s people experienced their faith through aroma. Some traditional churches still incorporate incense and candles today. Our olfactory sense and memory are closely linked, so by incorporating aromas into your faith walk, you can also help yourself create memories. You may remember the smells of a potluck at church, or maybe you associate the smell of coffee or tea with your morning Bible reading. Burning candles or diffusing essential oils may also help incorporate aroma into your faith routine.

Taste: Christ demonstrated this sense viscerally, by sharing with his disciples the broken bread and wine that represented His body. He commanded that the church never forget communion. In the early church, the people regularly got together for meals. In many cultures, food is synonymous with community and can be an important part of faith life.

God didn’t design us as spirits. He gave us human bodies that learn and take in the world through our senses. Since we are embodied beings who engage the world with our senses, I encourage you to explore how you can more intentionally engage your faith in sensory ways. I would love to hear about the ways you find to engage and explore in new ways and how this affects your faith life.

The sight, smells, and sounds of nature are some of the ways that I most love to spend time with the Lord.

Pause: Using your five senses, help calm and ground yourself for a moment by paying attention to your surroundings. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What are you touching right now? When you feel calm and ready, go read I John 1: 1-4. What resonates with you from this passage?

Renew: Take a moment to think about how you regularly engage your senses at church, in your Bible reading, or during your prayer time. In reading this blog post, did you think of new ideas to add to this list?

Next: Over the coming week, become more aware and curious about the ways that you are experiencing the Lord and His Kingdom here on earth through your senses. Look for new ways that you can incorporate your senses and for how this can help expand your connection with the Word, your prayer life, and in relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

May we be ever thankful for these bodies that we have been given and the ways that they help us to engage with each other and our Lord.

Pause, Renew, Next!

All Shall Be Well

Today is my birthday. I’ve been alive in the world for 38 years. Birthdays are a time for celebration, but they can also be a time for reflection. After all, a lot can happen in the course of a year.

Last night as I was folding laundry (because that’s what 37 year old moms do much of the time), I reflected over the past year. In a lot of ways, it hasn’t been a monumental year. I didn’t move or have any babies this year. I didn’t start a company or earn my doctorate. Still, this year has turned out to be anything but ordinary…

So far, 2020 has been extraordinary not just for me, but for the entire world! Who knew a global pandemic would sweep through our lives and change everyday life so dramatically? Last New Years Eve, before the word pandemic was a dot on the radar, I was feeling sentimental and slightly anxious thinking about how much could change in a year.

I remember praying about my worries, laying them before the Lord and cleansing my mind and heart before the start of the New Year. In the midst of my prayer, I felt the Lord gently impress on my spirit, “The future is too much for you. Let me hold it for you.”

How sweet the Lord is. He didn’t offer me any future knowledge or prophetic visions of what the year would bring. He didn’t give me a step by step plan of what I would do if calamity did arrive at my doorstep. He also didn’t offer me assurances that everything would be okay. Instead, He met me in my fear. He promised to be there. He promised to hold my future.

This promise was not just a figment of my imagination, because the same promise is confirmed in Scripture:

Lord, You are my portion and my cup of blessing; You hold my future.

Psalm 16:5 CSB

So, on my birthday, as I await what lies ahead in the coming year, both the joys and the sorrows, I am thankful that I will never walk the journey alone.

As Julian of Norwich said many, many centuries ago:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Seeking Safety

Yesterday, I had a blueberry picking date by myself. It felt like a me-date because, as a mother of four, there are few times that I am left by myself for more than an hour at a time. I brought my phone and a podcast to listen to, but instead of using my phone as a distraction, I tuned into the sounds around me instead: the voices of a family picking blueberries two rows over, a mooing cow in the pasture across the road, a church bell chiming the hours.

As I picked, I found a rhythm. Blueberry picking can be quite meditative. Reach out, grab a handful of berries, and gently drop them, plunk, plunk, into the bucket. Reach out again, plunk, plunk.

I decided to be intentional with my quiet time. “Lord,” I prayed, “I want to listen to you today. Speak, and I want to listen.”

As often happens when I pray this prayer, no audible voice followed. No Bible verses dropped into my consciousness. In fact, my thoughts continued unabated, as they often do.

As I moved down the row of bushes, I felt, more than saw, a bird fly out of the blueberry bush in front of me.

“Was that my imagination?,” I thought, “That seems like a strange place for a bird, unless… Oh! I bet there’s a nest in this bush.”

Sure enough, there, a foot above my head, was a tiny nest with three white-speckled eggs nestled inside. What an unexpected place for a bird’s nest! I quietly took a picture of it to show my boys when I got home.

As I continued picking, I soon heard another bird chirping insistently in my direction. It wasn’t a sweet, happy chirp. It was a warning chirp. I knew what that meant: another mama bird was warning me that her babies were nearby, and I was too close. I looked up into the blueberry bush before me, and right in front of my eyes was another bird’s nest. It was even smaller than the first. Inside of this nest were baby birds: newly hatched, pink, with only the beginnings of downy feathers.

What a delightful surprise! I planned on receiving blueberries and quiet time that afternoon, but was especially excited to see baby birds too.

For the mama birds, however, I don’t believe my happening upon their nests was a delightful surprise. It was the exact opposite. In building their nests, I’m sure they thought they had hit the jackpot. Building a nest in the midst of such bounty: blueberries and insects at their doorstep. By building their nests in the middle of a blueberry farm, they had managed to find food, but what they hadn’t planned on was the barrage of visitors that would descend upon their safe haven once the blueberries were ripe.

I wonder if this isn’t an allegory for our spiritual lives? Comfort and bounty bring the illusion of security. Sometimes we believe that God’s kindness and provision means living a comfortable and safe life, yet, this kind of life rarely brings spiritual growth. Learning to abide in Jesus means following Him no matter the circumstances.

Jesus came to his disciples and invited them into relationship, saying, “Follow me.” He didn’t give them the full picture of what they were signing up for. If He had, I wonder if they would have gone so willingly. No, He invited them into the mystery and adventure that comes with discipleship.

If you walk with the Lord long enough, He will no doubt call you to obedience in an area that feels uncomfortable. It may even feel unsafe. Truthfully, you could not be safer than in His will. A blueberry bush might feel safer and more beneficial than a tall tree to a small bird, who is unaware of the danger that humans will soon bring to her nest. Like those birds, we too, may seek places of safety that are actually the opposite. In following Jesus, we can know that from his omnipotent perspective, he is more aware of the dangers than we ever will be.

He never promises safety, but he does promise he will be with us. As C.S. Lewis writes in the Chronicles of Narnia, “Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”

As I am about to embark into new endeavors this fall, this is a good reminder for my soul. What the Lord is calling me to in the near future feels like a risk. I have wondered multiple times if I might have heard him wrong. Especially as the world has changed due to the pandemic, I’ve wondered, is this the right time to make a transition? I’ve asked God, “Are you still absolutely sure?”

The beautiful thing about following Christ is that He won’t lead you down the wrong path. You can’t step out of His will without purposefully sinning. He is a good teacher, and He doesn’t lead us halfway to the destination and then disappear. If He’s calling you to take on something that feels uncomfortable, know that He’s already ahead paving the way. He’s got your best in mind. You can trust Him.

Pause: Take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Meditate on Psalm 23:3: He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (ESV).

Renew: Reflect on your spiritual journey. When has the Lord called you to act in obedience to Him? What did it cost you? What was the result? What did you learn about Him through the process?

Next: Perhaps you are right where the Lord has called you to be right now. If so, enjoy it! However, if you feel the Lord is leading you towards obedience in some area of your relationship with Him, pray about the steps He would have you take next. Ask others to pray with you.

May we learn to rest in the safety of our Savior, not the illusion of our own comfort.

Pause, Renew, Next!

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.

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