Embracing a Not-So-New Decade

For those who don’t know me well…I have something to share. Probably something many others can relate to.

I fought turning 30, and leaving my 20’s behind like nothing else.

Maybe it has something to do with wanting to hang on to the sense of freedom I thought I felt during that glorious decade that included college, starting a new life and having fun. Maybe it’s something else. But, regardless of what it is…I’ve been celebrating the “anniversary” of my 29th birthday for longer than I’d like to admit.

But the other day, after talking with a friend and just putting some thought into where life is right now, I realized something: the 30’s…they’re great!

It all started when I decided that I’d rather be comfortable in what I was wearing than worry about whether something was on trend. I opted for bright patterned leggings with a knotted t-shirt dress and sweater. To top it off? i decided to keep slippers on in the house for the day. Don’t worry…I’m not eliminating all other clothing for yoga pants; but, if I wanted to…why not?

I then put a little more thought and contemplation into it…and realized something really great: for the first time in my life, I’m starting to be able to think about my own passions, what I enjoy and what I want to put my time into…instead of focusing on everyone around me and worrying about how every step I made would be perceived by those around me.

Things I’ve realized:

  • Yes. I love the beach. The ocean will forever call me. But…I enjoy a quiet mountain escape in a cottage with no internet connection just as much.
  • It’s okay to wander.
  • I can read 3000000 historical fiction novels and fall behind on current news topics; it’s okay!
  • I don’t care about whether my yoga poses are Instagram worthy; I enjoy the practice for myself.
  • If my kids show up at school in sweatpants, that’s okay. Certain things just aren’t worth the battle.
  • I can enjoy what I do for a living without worrying about the rat race out there. There’s something to be said about that.
  • I don’t have to feel guilty about needing a little time to myself. It’s not selfish, it’s restorative.
  • My Christmas tree is still up and we’re nearing mid-January. I think it’s a time to continue the celebration, not pack it away…I’m not on anyone else’s deadline.
  • I’d rather spend money on travel and experiences than “stuff,” and want to share that passion with my family. Memories are more important than ever.

Most importantly, perhaps…I’ve realized that it’s okay to just live. To follow what I believe, to pursue things as they come and to slow down, breathe and take it all in.

A few years ago, as I sobbed over leaving my 20th decade, I wish I could have felt this feeling. It feels like me…and it’s wonderful.

If you’re nearing a big change, a new decade, a new pace of life…don’t fight it. You might just love what’s around the corner!

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Grace that Falls Like Rain: Starting Year Ten

When people ask how John and I met, when we started dating, or more about our “story,” they’re often shocked. We’ve known each other forever. We started dating in high school. John proposed while he was still 19. We got married in college. Started our family right away.

We get mixed reactions, ranging from “aww” to very uncertain “wow’s!” The truth is…the way we did things doesn’t necessarily reflect today’s normal. And for us…that’s okay. We’ve struggled and we’ve celebrated. We’ve grown up together and have learned how to face this life together.

Today, as we celebrate nine years married, and get started on living year ten, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.

For our wedding celebration, way back when, we had a slideshow made to the song “A Page is Turned,” by Bebo Norman. It’s a sweet song, perfect for a wedding slideshow…which is why we picked it. But, today, one of the verses of that song means so very much more to us; in fact, it brings us to tears whenever we hear it:

“A page is turned in this life, he’s making her his wife,
And there is no secret to the source of this much life.
When the grace that falls like rain, is washing them again,
Just a chance to somehow, rise above this land.

Where the God of second chance
Will pick them up and He’ll let them dance
Through a world that is not kind
And all this time, they’re sharing with the one
That holds them up when they come undone
Beneath the storm, beneath the sun
And once again, here you stand
And once again, here you stand
Your day has come”

We thought back then that we knew what this song meant. That we were made for each other. We were THRILLED to jump into everything married life had to offer and we did just that.

But then…like many married couples, real life hit. We experienced lay-offs. Health concerns. Complicated pregnancies. Long commutes. The loss of loved ones. Cross country moves. Life got real. It got hard.

But, there was also a lot of joy. In our nine years, we’ve gotten to welcome four amazing new lives into this world…lives that we created together. We’ve traveled and seen many parts of this crazy world. We’ve made lifelong friends with whom we’ve celebrated great victories and mourned absolutely heartbreaking losses. We’ve watched pieces of complicated puzzles come together in ways that were better than we could have ever dreamed.

Most importantly, we learned to trust. We learned how true the words of the song above really are. We learned to follow and to embrace grace that truly falls like rain.

In our early stages, we were both Christian. We believed in our savior and used our mouths to claim we were ready to follow his leading for our lives. But, our understanding, our beliefs, were shallow. They failed to reach what mattered most…our hearts.

But somewhere along the line – I think mostly because of the hard parts – we learned to follow. We gave up control and learned about what faith and reliance really are. Most importantly, we found out that our efforts, desires and plans would fall short every time if they were not inspired and directed by our Savior.

To some, this probably sounds hard to swallow. Who wants to learn through hardship? But, I don’t want to focus too much on that. You see…when we learned to rely upon God’s plan for our lives…the struggle and the conflict that we faced so often early on actually lessened. We found a joy greater than anything we could have worked for, accomplished or achieved on our own. We felt the power of saving grace and are still brought to tears when we think about what that has meant to us, on a personal level.

We are grateful. We are changed.

As we look forward to the next year and beyond, there’s a sense of lightness that comes with just following and looking forward to the surprises that might be in store, instead of dwelling on what we “need” to accomplish, work for or push toward.

It might be hard. It might be easy. It will probably be both. But no matter what, I’m grateful for the foundation we have that’s so much more than we could have imagined; and I can’t wait to face it with the one that was created for me.

Happy nine years, John!

Using True Gifts

Christmas is a magical time. Enjoying the peace and promises of the season, time with loved ones and reflection is truly amazing, isn’t it?

As the season begins to wind down and we start to look ahead to the new year, I’ve been focusing on taking it all in and making the most of this season.

If your house looks like mine, it’s probably a little fuller than normal. Between Santa, grandparents, friends and other exciting events, we have toys, clothes and other gifts scattered everywhere. In a way, it’s fun. I love watching my kids remember a present, break into it, have a blast, then move onto another. The process keeps repeating itself. They’re having fun and spending a little less time in front of the television (unfortunately…no less time arguing 😉 ).

I’ve been thinking about how it all applies to my life. How can we make the spirit of Advent last a little longer? I think it does start with gifts…but not the gifts found under the tree.

I don’t know if any of you watch Nashville. I’m a guilty watcher. I’ve always been drawn to music and certain songs have always stood out to me. One of them is from the show’s soundtrack…it’s called “It Aint Yours to Give Away.” Maybe you’ve heard it…maybe you haven’t.

The following are a part of the lyrics to the song:

What if you’re just a vessel
And God gave you something special
It ain’t yours to throw away
It ain’t yours to throw away

As I drank a cup of coffee the other day, watching the tree and bundling up against the freezing temperatures outside, this song came to mind.

We may not all be gifted with money, extraordinary musical abilities like the actress in this show or anything that feels super exciting, but, we’re all gifted just the same. None of us is alike, none of us has the exact passions or drives as others.

It became a convicting thought for me. One of the gifts that I’ve often taken for granted as something I just enjoy, is writing. I’ve loved putting my thoughts to paper forever; in fact, it’s often the easiest way for me to communicate or make a point. Ask me to speak in front of 100 people and the results may be less than applaud-worthy. Ask me to sing, dance or perform an amazing task, I’ll fall short (though I’d have fun trying). Numbers? Science? Forget it. Writing, however, is my happy place.

As such, as the year gets underway, I’ve decided to create an Advent devotional for next year. I get to keep the season going while using something that I feel I was given as a gift. Maybe it’ll just be a fun project, but, maybe it will be more. Right now, I’m following in what I feel led to pursue.

More than just me; I believe we’re all provided with little gifts. Maybe you know sure as day what yours is. Maybe you’re less certain. But, I’d encourage you to think about what you enjoy, where you find your heart and your head when you’re not focused on everyday tasks, what you long for, to acknowledge it as a gift and to pray about how God is leading you to pursue it as this advent season comes to a close. Let’s keep the season going, even when the world says it’s time to move on!

When Thoughts are Jumbled and Words Aren’t Enough

 

 

I woke up this morning thinking about how the day was going to go, getting my ducks in a row and thinking about the to-do list I keep in my head.

Then I opened the news (something I do every morning), and was stunned. Last night, while many of us slept, tragedy unfolded on the west coast. I’m sure you’ve seen the details, and I’m sure you sat in shock as you read or watched first hand accounts from those who’s lives were interrupted by complete and utter chaos and terror.

My hearts go out to those who saw the unimaginable, those who lost loved ones and those who must begin the long journey to recovery. Like most of us, I just can’t wrap my head around this and other acts that seem to dominate the news cycle in recent years.

This year we’ve seen tragedy at home and abroad, we’ve watched natural disasters unfold in real time, we’ve searched for ways to reach out, to connect with those we’ve lost touch with and to provide tangible assistance where it’s needed most.

I’d encourage everyone to continue in these efforts. Small acts of kindness, prayers, “reaching out,”…they all make a difference.

We won’t have answers, we won’t be able to understand the “why,” and that’s hard, especially when we value control. But, if you’re looking for something extra, something to hold on to as you start your day, as you try to find ways to help and as you think about the world your kids are venturing into, I wanted to share scripture that I am holding onto, that I found during devotions this morning.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 1 John 14:27.

As I read this, I realized it really is the whole picture. It’s easy to resort to fear, maybe to anger, when it feels hard to find something to ground ourselves to. But, we’re called to find peace, peace that can only come from one place. We aren’t to live lives of fear.

I think all of us could use a little of this, especially on days like today, how about you? Look for ways to be a light, to reach those who need it most, and move forward in real peace that’s promised. This world? It will be filled with trouble, with tragedy and with hurt – we see it every day, but peace is promised.

Praying for those in Las Vegas. Praying for peace.

Love Erases Lines

My thoughts are scattered this morning; I think a lot of people can relate to this. I share this not for sympathy, but to ask you to bear with me as I try to share what I believe I need to share. It might not be succinct, it might not flow just the way I’d like it to, but I think right now the message matters a little more than the delivery.

First, I need to start by saying that I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where you come from. I don’t know your background or the experiences that have shaped you into who you are today. I don’t know your beliefs. I don’t know what you care about, what you’re passionate about or what drives you.

But, you’re loved. You matter. You’re more than a definition. More than a descriptive phrase or word. More than a statistic. You are a human that was created for a purpose, and that means so much.

Right now, it feels like that basic fact has been forgotten by so many. We’ve begun to identify by those phrases. To measure our value and the value of others by categories, by lines, by division. We’ve lost sight of the fact that these lines and dividing factors have been created by others, by humans, by thoughts, by errors, by bad judgments and by weakness. That they are words that shouldn’t matter.

Today, however, they do.

They’ve driven our country to take sides. Scary sides. Sides that have lead to real action and devastating consequences. To hatred of the “other,” and real hurt and fear. We’ve seen it in action over the past week.

I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard some share that they needed to turn off the television because of the bombardment of stories. I’ve heard others share that they’re heading out to protest, to take action. And, I’ve heard far too many say nothing.

As Christians – it’s hard. I get it. It’s hard to take a side and to be counted. It’s hard to put love into action when we aren’t sure what that action should be. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that it’s easy to feel compelled to act, then to fail out of fear or a general lack of understanding of what that action should be.

I don’t think it needs to be that hard.

Here’s the thing. We are called to love. To love unequivocally. To love in a way that is clear, obvious and felt by those who need it most.

I think we know that. But, I think what comes next is where the challenge begins.

I’ve seen a lot of churches speaking out, saying it’s time to take a stand…and I agree. I not only agree but I applaud them for breaking the silence that needs to be broken. Bigotry, hatred, racism; these are real words with real-life consequences that change and hurt real lives. They have no place in the church. Change starts with acknowledging the need for it.

It’s time to start erasing those words with love. To put it into action. So many times, we say we love and we mean it.

Then the “but” comes in. We become unsure of how to act while still reflecting Christ. We start to mix up the word “love” and the words “fully support and agree with.” We believe that showing love, the love that we’re called to show means we need to fully jump on board and support something we don’t believe in, so we fall short. I’m just as guilty of this as others.

I think love is meant to be more simple than that. It’s meant to be a reaching across the aisle when no one else will. It means standing when no one else will. Calling someone who’s feeling rightfully angry or scared and saying “I’m here.” Praying for those who are oppressed.  Listening. Lamenting. Crying out for those who need it most and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

You can love someone you don’t understand. You can love someone you disagree with (hello; we still love our spouses when they wrong us, don’t we?). Love doesn’t need to mean agreeing 100% of the time or jumping on board something we cannot accept. Sin is still real and must be dealt with, but so is God. Love is so much deeper than that.

We not only “can” love; we are called to do so.

John 13:34 says: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

There’s no “but…” there’s no “except…” there’s nothing but a very specific command.

When love is put into action, it changes hearts. It breaks stereotypes. It becomes a foundation for a relationship that can become so much more, a relationship that can lead to change and sharing, but only when it’s genuine.

Most importantly, it erases lines. When we drop our preconceived notions and reach out in love, we start to break down the barriers that are so prevalent in our country today on both sides. We start to eliminate the frustration this world feels towards Christians who claim to love as Christ did – without prejudice or preconceived notions – but fail to act differently from the rest of the world. We start to make a difference, one life at a time.

The world needs this type of love, today, right now, right this second.

What would happen if you reached out? If you took the status you shared or the article you “liked” and changed the way you acted in an intentional, real way?

If we could all commit to living out the command that we are called to live, to love without restraint, I think the change would send shock waves across this country that would be tangibly felt and noticed on a wide scale.

Right now, a lot of people and groups of people need that kind of love. They need a refuge, a place without barriers, without lines, without division. The church can be that place without compromising principles, without double standards and without changing values. But, only when love is at the foundation.

It starts with us. It starts with acknowledging that there is a problem and committing to act accordingly.

Let’s shine a light during this dark, dark time. Let’s start to erase the lines that have become so prevalent in our world. Let’s love in tangible ways that will lead to softened hearts, changed minds and unity in a time of crisis.

 

 

 

The Problem with Prosperity

It feels like we’re bombarded with messaging from all sides some days…right? Sometimes it’s hard to sort it out, to make sense of it and to decide what sits with us for the long run.

One of the messages I’ve been seeing crop up a lot, and discussed even more, is the “prosperity” gospel. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you are not unfamiliar with the concept. In this view, those who trust Christ and live according to his standards are automatically blessed beyond measure. Those who give the most receive the most. Those who live their best lives are blessed accordingly.

Before I go further, just from reading that, I think it’s obvious why there are some skeptics when it comes to Christianity. When these promises fall short, who’s left to blame?

The Problem with Prosperity

Here’s the thing. This life is hard. We’re promised it will be. We will be handed more than we can handle on our own, forced to rely on a God that’s so much greater than us. We will be tested the way a silversmith tests silver until we are refined.

When we focus on prosperity alone, we focus on a half (at best) truth.

I tell my kids regularly that God is not a genie. “Why?” you might ask? Let me walk you through it.

The other day, my kids were with me in a store. I saw my middle one bow his head as we walked to the check out. “Lucas…what did you just pray about bud?” I asked, thrilled that he felt the need in the middle of his day to resort to prayer.

“I prayed that God would make you say yes when I asked for Pokemon cards,” he replied. Cute? Yes. Limited view of how this whole thing works? For sure.

Another day, my oldest was playing a game with his brother. He prayed out loud that his brother would lose, giving him the opportunity to pick the next game.

We have thus had to have some serious conversations about the fact that while God can intervene in all aspects of our day, he’s not to be treated like a genie who grants wishes and all of our hearts desires on a whim. That prayer is so much more than asking and receiving. While this is a Biblical promise, there’s much more to it than this.

When we focus only on prosperity and on the expectation that we will be blessed, we miss out on a few important things.

First, we set ourselves up for disappointment, not only in this life, but in our relationship with Christ. When we expect blessings because we’re following the rules, we fail to prepare for what might feel like very real heartaches and failures. We forget that the Bible also promises that in this world we will face heartaches, challenges and temptations that feel much greater than ourselves.

Second, we develop a limited view of God that looks a whole lot like the view that my children naturally have. We fall into the rut that tells us that we have to behave a certain way to get rewarded, instead of following biblical guidelines because of our love for Christ, for a deeper relationship and all that it entails.

Third, we forget that blessings don’t always come in the shape and form that we expect. We have these ideas about what feels best, what we truly want and desire. We forget, once again, that our view of blessings is limited. We lose sight of the idea that sometimes blessings come from situations that hurt, situations that make no sense to us…and might never make sense on this side of heaven. When this happens, we fail to appreciate the real blessings in life because we fail to recognize them.

The Flip Side of the Coin 

If you’re reading this and thinking “wow…what’s the point?” or feeling as though this is more of a discouragement than anything else, I want to share a little encouragement. What I feel is a more accurate view of real life with God.

Recently I’ve gotten to share really great times with really great friends…people that I know God has put in my life for a reason. Friends who show up for a minute to drop off baked goods. Friends that come over for game nights. Friends that set up picnics, who we can laugh with when we forget utensils and improvise. Friends that we’ve walked through real-world heartache with on more than one occasion. Friends that we’ve hit the ground praying with when that’s the only – and best – course of action we have.

During some of these occasions and during some serious reflection (I feel like the front porch is a great place for this), we’ve gotten to talk about how God really does bless us with things we desire. Perhaps it’s because he puts those desires on our hearts – I think this is absolutely true – but, I also think it’s because he really does want to, just because. I feel like we just get so busy, so bogged down that sometimes we miss out on them.

I thought back to the house we live in right now. It was the neighborhood we wanted to live in when we found out we’d be moving back…but building here would cost more than building the exact same home in a neighborhood down the street. Using logic, we reserved a lot in the other neighborhood and designed the basic layout of the home we’d build. During the relocation, it fell through; we wouldn’t be able to build the home we wanted and take advantage of the benefits the company offered. We were heartbroken.

We were told about a home in the neighborhood we wanted in the first place…a model home that was perfect and could be modified a bit to meet both our needs and budget. We jumped at the opportunity and are still in the process of settling into this new home. While it would have been easy to focus on the heartache of losing the home we thought we’d be building, God had something even better in the works. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how that plan worked out. This home can be a refuge for people who are hurting. It can be a place to build memories with our family. It can be a place that our friends can come for a break and where we can share many laughs (and already have!).

It seems like a simple example, but sharing it with friends, we’ve heard similar stories of blessings in disguise…even blessings that have come after loss and true heartache – life changing heartache that hurts so much it manifests itself in a physical way.

God blesses us – but not because we expect it. Not because it’s guaranteed. And, not in the way we think it should look (although sometimes it does!).

When someone promises an easy life filled with blessings – financial or otherwise, think critically about that promise, and instead, look for truth and balance. The problem with prosperity (aside from almost blatant falsehood) is the limited view of something SO much bigger, that it creates.

What are the blessings in disguise that you’ve seen in your life? Where can you look back with thankfulness, even if it felt impossible at the time?

 

 

The World Needs Real Christianity…Today.

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The past week – or rather, the past year culminating in the past week – has felt like a whirlwind…sometimes more like a downward spiral where it feels harder and harder to catch my breath.

I’ve been watching the news, reading updates, taking in what my friends and those close to me have to say and trying to absorb it all…trying  to take it in and to figure out what exactly I should do with everything I’m taking in. I’ve tried to hold off on getting “too” political, or upsetting the wrong group and have honestly just struggled with keeping my head on straight.

I’m guessing this sounds pretty familiar to you. In fact, I’m guessing you’re feeling the same way.

I’ve seen hurtful things on both sides of the political spectrum. I’ve read mistruths coming from all sides concerning the “others.” I’ve seen insults hailed and lines firmly drawn in the sand.

I’ve watched Christians be accused – sometimes, unfortunately more often than not –  of being hypocrites. Of showing love only when it’s convenient for them. I’ve seen friends who grew up in the church do 180’s and turn away because of it. I’ve had friends told me they can’t pray anymore because what they’re seeing in action doesn’t match what they feel the church is supposed to be. I’ve seen people outside of Christianity share that it’s those of us who claim to be Christ-followers that are doing the most damage.

I’ve seen hurt. I’ve seen pain. I’ve seen terror…and it doesn’t really feel like there’s an end in sight right now.

I’ve also taken things personally. I’ve cried. I’ve held my family a little closer than normal and I’ve prayed for direction. I’ve prayed for a way to be a healer, someone who can listen to those who are hurting…those who are scared…those who feel lost or abandoned, and to be someone who makes a difference.

To stop the spinning…I’ve spent a lot of time in scripture and in prayer, begging for discernment and a path to move forward.

Then it started coming together.

It’s not an answer. It doesn’t replace the need for reaching out to politicians and making our voices heard. It doesn’t fix the very real pain and fear those around us are feeling. But…it’s a start.

Here’s the thing. The world back in Roman times was a pretty tumultuous place to live in. Laws changed daily, Christians were given power and respected then persecuted and nailed to crosses. No one knew who to trust, where to turn. It was easy to let fear being a controlling factor.

But…the church grew even during the worst times of persecution. Right now, it feels like the outrage, the fear is just as real…but so many are turning away.

What’s the difference?

The difference is authenticity. I’m not here to accuse anyone of being “fake,” but, I think it’s time that we all work together to try to right our path before it’s too late. It’s time we go back to New Testament-style Christianity.

It’s time to pull off the labels that turn people away, to stop using our words altogether…because right now, they’re just causing more hurt.

It’s time to stop saying we should “love” everyone while batting people away and keeping those who are “different” at arms length.

It’s time to practice being “pro-all-life,” not just “pro-birth.” To come alongside those who feel like they’re out of options, or who have made decisions they very well might be hurting from. To think before we slew hurt and to pray before we act.

It’s time to open our homes, our arms and our hearts. To listen to those who seem to be on the other side of whatever political spectrum we can claim to fall on. To support those who are afraid, who don’t know what their future looks like because of the craze that has seemed to overtake our country and our world.

It’s time to show our support. To show in real-life-ways that we believe in helping the less fortunate, the refugees, those who can’t stand for themselves.

It’s time to reach out to our lawmakers, to show our support and be a loud and booming voice. To donate to causes that HELP others. To become a political force that leads to action.

It’s time to pray for those in power instead of fixating on the helpless feeling we might have at the pit of our stomachs.

I’m not here to lecture you on the time you spend in prayer, the choices you’ve made in life or what path you may be walking. I am here to say it’s time to turn around…to stop speaking words without action. To stop being the reason that those who need Christ’s love the most are turned off and ready to jump on our words (sometimes because they deserve being jumped on).

If you are a Christian…you have to believe the whole story. You can’t pick and choose the applications that seem easiest for you, or easiest to swallow. I believe authentic Christianity is black and white…right now too many are falling into “gray” areas that do nothing but turn people off.

Guys…we are called to love. We are called to share that love with others. Our words…they’re not going to be what brings others together or changes hearts and lives. Our actions…the way we reflect the love that we have been given without deserving it in the least…that’s where it’s got to start.

Who can you reach out to today? How can you use the gifts you’ve been given to make a difference? How can you help someone today?

The early church exploded because God’s love was so real. It wasn’t something the apostles and early believers spoke of then trampled on with the actions. It was real…it was authentic…it brought people together. Can we bring it back?

Take the time to examine your own heart, your own bias’s, your own motivations. I’ve been doing it a lot this week…and the things that have shown up haven’t always been pleasant. But, until we get on our knees and ask for a true soul-searching and revealing…then get up off our knees and take what we find to the world, we aren’t going to make the difference the world needs.

We can’t cower in corners, we can’t spend our time debating in forums that lead to hurt, not change. We have to start from square one…to act.

We’re called to love, to support those who are oppressed and to live according to REAL biblical standards. How are you measuring up? Let’s commit to being real, to taking the stereotypes that are out there and breaking through them, breaking through fear and negativity in the process.

It all starts now…it starts with us.