Faith

5 Questions to Ask Before You Say Yes

Am I the only person who feels guilty when I tell someone no?

I really hate disappointing people. So I say yes a lot. Even when I really shouldn’t.

This was very evident this past month when I somehow ended up in charge of a homecoming party for the entire high school (we have a small Christian school so this isn’t quite as large as some of you might be imagining). I’m not even sure how it happened exactly. One minute I was asking a question about the venue, and the next, I was in charge.

It was one of those things I should NOT have said yes to. Not only did I find myself hyperventilating in the weeks leading up to the event, but my son was having his own event. This summer he made a short movie, and the weekend before the homecoming party he had his movie premiere. I thought maybe 50 people would come, but 200 ended up showing up. It was a wonderful night, but it was overshadowed by my anxiety over the coming homecoming party.

Not only did my son have a major event, but I was supposed to be launching my debut novel, Hook’s Daughter: The Untold Tale of a Pirate Princess. But of course, with two events on back to back weekends, that wasn’t happening.

Was the party a bad thing? Not at all.

Did the kids enjoy it? Yes, they did.

Did I need to be in charge? Absolutely not!

Not only did I have a lot on my plate— things that I have been called to do—but event planning is NOT something I enjoy or even particularly good at. And this party had numerous challenges, including losing all power for the entirety of the party.

By taking on this party, I ended up putting my own priorities, goals and calling at the very bottom of the list – right where it wasn’t supposed to be.

How did this happen? Too often, I let other people’s priorities become my priorities.

While it can feel super spiritual to always say yes to people when they ask you for something, the problem is by saying yes to one thing, you are automatically saying no to something else – whether you mean to or not.

Even Jesus – who came to bring salvation to people by dying for them – sometimes told people no. When people found out that He could heal the sick, there were times that the people pressed in so closely He could barely move. He would often leave to give Himself some space. There were times when the people begged Him to stay, but He said no and moved on.

Why? Because Jesus wasn’t just about saying yes to people. He was about saying yes to the Father.

I think this is where the boundary line comes in. If we say yes to every single thing people ask of us, we could ultimately be saying no to what God is asking of us – even if we don’t mean to be.

Jesus had a very short time from the time He started His ministry to the time He died on the cross, yet He never seemed rushed or hurried.

He put God the Father’s priorities over people’s priorities, even when some of the things people were asking seemed important or were legitimate needs.

I know I often let false guilt sway me even when I know God has asked me to do certain things, and by saying yes, I am pushing those things onto the back burner.

This problem is especially true for women, and I believe it all has to do with our definition of the word selfish.

The actual definition from Webster’s dictionary is “lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure,”

Unfortunately, for many of us (me included) selfish has come to mean telling anyone the word no.

Just because someone else doesn’t think what you are doing is important doesn’t mean you can’t tell them no. As a creative, I need downtime and space to create. Before I ever sat down to write one word of my current novel, there was a lot of what looked like me doing nothing to an outsider. But it wasn’t really free time. Working out a plot or developing characters takes a lot of thinking and mulling over.

I often felt bad for telling people no when it looked like I was just sitting around staring into space, but without that empty space, my imaginary people and places couldn’t come into existence.

When you have a baby, the entire experience doesn’t happen in the labor and delivery room. You spend nine months where all the important stuff happens beneath the surface, invisible to the human eye. You would never tell a pregnant woman she needed to skip that nine months and get right into the labor room.

But we do this all the time to creatives. I had to learn to be “selfish” about the time I needed to create because that is what God has called me to do. If I say yes to everybody else’s stuff, I can’t do what God has called me to do.

Here are five questions I’ve learned to ask before saying yes. It goes without saying, you should always pray about whether you should say yes or no to requests for your time and energy, but these questions can help.

  1. Is this something only YOU can do? For example, you are your child’s only mother, your husband’s only wife, and your parent’s only child. Will saying yes improve those key relationships or fulfill one of your key roles like mom or wife? By saying yes, will you NOT be able to serve/care for the people only YOU can serve/care for?
  2. Is this something the person can do for themselves? Some people have learned to be helpless, or we have taught them to be. If you are a parent, it is all too easy to fall into the pattern of doing every little thing for your child. Sometimes, this is because we just have a natural bent to serve, and other times, it is because our expectations of our children haven’t grown with them. While we want to be caring and helpful, don’t enable helplessness, especially out of false guilt!
  3. Will saying yes create an unhealthy lack of margin in your life? We weren’t made to fill our lives to the very edges. It is very difficult to “live by the Spirit,” when every moment of every day is filled to the absolute limit. We create stress for ourselves and short circuit those unique God-encounters when we have packed our schedules so full that any tiny interruption becomes a catastrophe.
  4. Does this request fit with your gifts, your calling, or brings joy; or is it something that will drain you and feel like a burden? This is a somewhat tricky one because there are times when God asks us to do things that step out of our comfort zone and might cause us stress. However, this is probably not going to be the norm unless He is moving you in a new direction (another reason why prayer is so important before we say yes). When we say yes to too many things that drain us or stress us out because they are not things we are gifted in, this effects everything else in our lives too. Case in point, I felt like my life was on hold until this homecoming party was over. I’m glad the kids had fun, but there were other people whose gifts DO include organizing events that would have probably stepped up, if I hadn’t taken it on.
  5. When you say yes, what will you have to say no to? The hard truth is we all have the same number of hours in our days. We can’t buy more time. Saying yes to one thing means we will have less time for something else. Only you can determine if the trade-off is worth it.

While I type this post, I can see a little printable I made with a quote from one my favorite Christian bloggers, Arabah Joy (you can find her at http://www.arabahjoy.com).

“You can’t do all the good things people ask you to do…if you want to do the one thing God is calling you to do.”

Even though I believe that wholeheartedly, in recent weeks I have found myself sucked into a lot of busy. Some of it, like my son’s movie premiere (you can find his movie Spider-man: Origins here), was something that was a good yes, but others – like getting sucked into organizing a homecoming party – were drains on my time and energy that I should have said no to.

I am still learning that saying no to someone’s request or need isn’t necessarily selfish. Sometimes, saying no is the most selfless thing I can do because it frees me up to fulfill the call God has on my life.

How about you? I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned about when to say yes.

Blessings, Rosanne

The First Anniversary of My Dad’s Death

It was on this day, last year, that my dad took his last breath on earth and his first one in heaven.

He hadn’t been doing well, but none of us expected him to deteriorate so fast. Certainly, none of us, including his oncologist, expected him to be gone less than a week after his last trip to Columbus.

He went into the hospital in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and by Sunday he had slipped into a deep sleep all on his own.  We sat around him that day, periodically going over to check on him, to tell him we loved him, to keep vigil, to chuckle just a little at the half snore.

The next time my dad opened his eyes was to see the face of Jesus.

I’m not sure what it is about the year anniversary of a loved one’s death. They are no more gone that day than any other, but suddenly, you find yourself back there where you were a year ago, walking a familiar path of loss all over again.

There is a sort of shock and numbness that cushions you when a loved one dies, but certain things remain clear memories.

I can close my eyes and see and feel the dim hush of that hospital room. I can still feel the wispiness of my dad’s hair and the clamminess of his skin.

I remember my mom’s call that time was short, and the horrible disbelief that even though I had hit every single green light, I had still missed his moment of passing by only a few minutes.

When I entered that room, I knew immediately and unequivocally that my dad was gone, that his body was just an empty shell. The spirit that had animated it was gone.

I remember the befuddled busyness of going over funeral details. I can still feel the dread in my belly of having to smile and nod and hug all the people, but at the same time taking comfort that so many people loved him and cared.

I remember how desperately I wanted to get across who my dad was and what his life meant in the eulogy I was giving, and how inadequate I felt as words seemed just out of my grasp.

I remember Brody leaning on the podium singing.

I remember Brock – my most stoic of children – breaking down when sharing about his grandpa.

I remember my mom, the first time we came into the funeral home, how she had to brace herself before going to the casket.

I remember the day after the funeral. I spent the night with my mom. The next morning we went to Panera where we picked at a bagel and drank coffee, not sure what to do.

How do you do life without the person who has always been there?

Just recently, I wrote in my prayer journal and asked God how you can both miss someone deeply and yet not wish them back here.

The truth is, it was my dad’s time to go. If he had stayed longer, he would have suffered and none of us wanted that.

At the same time, life continues to roll on, and I miss him experiencing it all. My younger son filmed a short movie this summer. The premier is in a few weeks (just a screening at our local church – nothing huge), and I can envision my dad telling everyone about it, proud of his grandson. “My grandson, the filmmaker.”

But he’s not here.

Life will move on and all the important milestones will happen and he won’t be here. And some days, that’s just hard.

And yet, our lives have also moved on. Our days and weeks have slowly rearranged themselves into a new normal, one that doesn’t include my dad in its daily fabric.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss him. But I know while we have been grieving and fumbling around trying to figure out life without him, he’s had the best year ever.

Appropriately, someone sang No More Night at church this week. It’s why I can be sad and glad all at the same time.

No More Night by David Phelps from the album Heaven

The timeless theme, Earth and Heaven will pass away
It’s not a dream, God will make all things new that day
Gone is the curse from which I stumbled and fell
Evil is banished to eternal hell

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

See all around, now the nations bow down to sing
The only sound is the praises to Christ, our King
Slowly the names from the book are read
I know the King, so there? s no need to dread

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

See over there, there? s a mansion
Oh, that’s prepared just for me
Where I will live with my Savior eternally

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

All praises to the great, “I AM”
We’re gonna live in the light of the risen Lamb

Blessings, Rosanne

In My Weakness I See God’s Strength

It’s the first week of school.

It’s the last first week of school for my baby who is a senior this year. I’m not as sad about that as I could be, but still.

The last few weeks have been somewhat crazy as the whirl of last minute things need to be done – lessons plans and school supply shopping and practices and scrimmages and games and, and, and…

I’m tired.

The school year hasn’t even really started, and I’m just not ready for the hustle and bustle. My heart and my mind haven’t quite snapped out of the still and quiet that was this summer.

And yet, it’s here whether I’m ready or not.

God’s Strength – Not Mine

Today, in the mail came a letter from Ransomed Heart ministries. And it was just what I needed to read, and maybe it’s what you need to read, too.

It’s St. Patrick’s Breastplate – which to be completely honest I’d never heard of before today. But when I looked it up, I found that it is a prayer attributed to the Irish saint. It’s a powerful hymn of hope for God’s help, especially when you are feeling weak.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity

Through belief in the Threeness

Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism

Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial

Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension

Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me,

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak to me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s host to save me,

From snares of devils,

From temptation of vices,

Frome everyone who shall wish me ill, afar or near

I arise today:

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in Threeness,

Through confession of the Oneness

of the Creator of creation.

My friend, may you rise up today, not in your own strength, but in the strength of the Creator of the universe.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9,10
Blessings, Rosanne

Lessons in the Silence

It’s been a quiet summer.

We haven’t traveled.

We haven’t entertained much.

Each day has slipped by like beads on a string.

And I’m okay with that.

Because while it has been a quiet summer, it’s also been a creative one.

I’m currently in the process of revising Hook’s Daughter, my middle-grade fantasy novel, and I’m starting to plan the next two books in what will ultimately be a trilogy. So having some space has been a good thing.

I put out three new devotional journals: 30 Days of Overcoming Fear; 30 Days of Knowing God; and 30 Days of Your Identity in Christ. (They are all available on Amazon, if you are interested.)

 

 

 

 

 

I find the silence and the solitude has allowed creativity to flourish. When things are busy and noisy, it’s hard for me to find the head and heart space to create.

In the quiet, I find my trust in God grows too.

An interesting thing happened in the late spring, early summer. Not only was my life quiet, so was God. I’m used to hearing His still small voice, to feeling His presence in tangible ways and being guided by His Spirit.

But there was just silence.

One thing I had been really thinking and praying about this past spring was feelings versus truth. As humans, we tend to swing from one extreme to another. When I was growing up, emotions were kind of, if not taboo, certainly not encouraged – especially in excess – in church.

Now though, it’s like we’ve swung to the opposite extreme where an emotional experience with God is seen as equal to growth. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had some wonderful times with God where worship has made my emotions overflow, when His presence has reduced me to tears, when I’ve been moved beyond speech by something I’ve heard or read from His Word.

Those are all good things.

But they aren’t the only things.

They aren’t the things that help us to grow in our character and our obedience necessarily.

It’s like the emotional high has replaced the faithful following.

So, when God became silent, suddenly I was left in this place where all I had was what I knew to be true, not what I felt to be true.

And yet, the Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)

About this same time, I was working on my summer goals and plans, and I realized I couldn’t remember my word for the year.

Yeah – I know right? Welcome to middle age!

So, I went and opened up my PowerSheets where I had written it down.

My word for the year is TRUST.

And that’s when it hit me and I got what God had been trying to teach me through His silence.

Did I trust Him or did I trust my experience of Him?

Did I trust truth or did I trust my emotions about those truths?

Did I trust His promise to never leave me even when I couldn’t hear Him?

I never really knew that silence and solitude are actually considered spiritual disciplines.

Now I know why they are powerful.

I think getting quiet with God is going to be a regular part of my life in coming days. It’s in those quiet places that the best stuff grows.

I’d love to know what God has been teaching you this summer.

Blessings, Rosanne

 

Father’s Day – A Grief Delayed

My dad’s gifts for Father’s Day evolved over my adult years. I went from buying him clothes to books to finally, gift cards.

This year I bought flowers to put on his grave.

When my dad first died over nine months ago, I had a deep peace. God clearly showed me it was his time to go, that his story had ended, at least on earth. It was time for him to go home.

It was also clear to me that God had graciously given us one more year together. It was equally clear that if my dad had lived longer his suffering would have increased, and it was a distinct possibility that he wouldn’t have been able to stay home since his mobility was rapidly deteriorating. That would have crushed both of my parents who were constant companions.

Of course, I’ve had sad days and days when I cried a bit, but the grief I thought I’d feel didn’t really hit me. It waited patiently in the wings while I focused on supporting my mother through the toughest transition – from wife to widow. It marked time while the hectic schedule of the school year made the weeks blur together.

I felt an inkling of it on my birthday. The first time in my adult life when my father’s slightly off-key voice didn’t sing “Happy Birthday” to me.

It nipped at me when I typed “The End” on the rough draft of my first novel when I realized my dad would never hold my book in his hands.

But it came out of the shadows for Father’s Day.

Maybe it’s just that I have finally slowed down, or maybe it is because my mom is getting used to life alone, or as used to it as you can ever get.

Or maybe it’s just that the day meant to celebrate fathers and all they mean to us drives home to me like nothing else does that I don’t have mine anymore.

Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself in tears multiple times this week. A deep ache seems to have settled in my chest, and the weight of my father’s absence weighs heavy in my heart.

And in the middle of my tears and sadness, I find myself thankful. Thankful I had a dad I can truly mourn. Thankful that I had that last extra year to spend intentional time with him. Thankful that my dad’s absence left a hole that nobody can fill.

When I was little, I thought my dad hung the moon. He was my superhero, and I had him squarely on a pedestal. There was nothing he couldn’t do or fix.

As I grew up, I realized he wasn’t perfect, but I never really took him off that pedestal. He was still a man I could admire and respect, not just love. He was a man my children could look up to and emulate.

And I’m thankful because I know that’s not the case for everyone.

So, as I walk in this new season of grief, I walk with not just a sad heart but a full heart. Even though my dad is no longer here, I’m keenly aware that I’m one of the lucky ones, and Father’s Day is still a day to celebrate that man.

Blessings, Rosanne

 

 

Easter Is a Reminder of God’s Kindness

Have you ever done something for someone and they just didn’t appreciate it?

I remember back when my kids were little, every time one of their birthdays rolled around, I would make their cake. They got to request a specific theme, and then I tried to come up with something that worked. Some years were more challenging than others!

The year Brody turned 11, he wanted a cake that kind of represented all the things he was interested in: sports, art, his spiritual life.

I spent a lot of time on that cake, dividing it into four equal parts and drawing miniature representations of each thing in each section. I made each of the four section different colors.

It was definitely a labor of love.

When it was time to bring out his cake, I was really excited for him to see it. Smiling, I brought it out from a back room and set it down in front of him.

Instead of the delight I had envisioned, he wrinkled his nose. Then, he pointed to one of the paint brushes I had carefully drawn with icing. “What’s that?” The disdain was clear in his voice. “It looks like a straw or something.” He continued to point out things that weren’t quite right.

I’ll be honest. I was hurt, and more than a little angry.

It hurts when we do something out of love, and the recipient doesn’t love it – or worse is critical. Even if it is just a birthday cake.

Imagine how God feels, then, when we snub His gift of salvation?

 

As I sat in the Good Friday service this year, the one phrase that kept coming to me over and over again was Romans 2:4

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

That verse wasn’t even part of the service that night, but this phrase from this verse just kept washing over me, and I was moved to tears by it.

God gave His Son to die, not just a painful death but a humiliating death for us.

And people ignore that gift.

Worse, they often outright reject that gift, mocking it or calling it a crutch for weak and stupid people.

I can’t even imagine how that hurts God’s heart.

And God’s response?

It isn’t anger.

It isn’t instant retaliation.

No, His response is kindness. It’s love. It’s a gentle wooing of the lost.

If I was God (we can all be very thankful I am not – am I right?) I would want to FORCE people to accept my sacrifice and my gift. I would want to make them see how awesome it really was for me to do that for them. Even though they didn’t deserve it. Even though they were vile and sinners.

But God doesn’t do that.

He loves us so much that He gives us free will – even when rejecting His gift breaks His heart.

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. I Peter 3:9

It hurts His heart to send people to hell. He doesn’t want to do it – even when those people mock Him and reject Him and make fun of His great sacrifice for them.

I don’t know about you, but that completely undoes me. My mind can’t wrap around a love that great.

But I can be thankful that that same love is directed toward me.

Because the truth is, while I don’t mock or reject God’s gift, I can take it for granted. It can start to feel so familiar, I lose my wonder of the great thing Jesus did – not just for the world – but for me!

And while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me.

Oh Lord, never let me become used to your sacrifice or take it for granted. Let me continually be overwhelmed and in awe of your great love for me!

Blessing, Rosanne

Why My Word for 2018 is Trust

When I was a kid, my parents and I went to this place called Word of Life up in New York. They had a day camp for the littles and I loved it!

One day, we went to the beach. The memory isn’t very clear anymore, and I’m sure the folks watching us were being careful, but as I waded out in the shallows, I slipped. For some reason, I just couldn’t seem to get my feet underneath me to stand up. We were in a lake, so maybe the rocks covering the bottom were slippery. Or maybe the current was strong. Most likely, I was just klutzy and uncoordinated. Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t stand up, and in my little five year old mind, it seemed like I was going to drown.

Just when I thought all was lost, my friend June reached down her pudgy hand and yanked me to my feet. I coughed and gasped. I think I probably cried a little bit. When my mom came to get me, I ran to her and told her I almost drowned. The workers, understandably, downplayed this event.

In their eyes, they were probably telling the truth.  It was shallow water. I was probably under a total of 10 seconds (it only seemed like 10 minutes). It probably was one of those things that scared me in much greater proportion to the actual danger I was in.

But it was enough to instill in me a great fear.

My mom, who is also not all that fond of the water, really tried. She took me to swim lessons. These lessons were not a huge success since on the very first day, the instructor – a perky college student – informed us with great enthusiasm we were all going to jump into the deep end from the diving board.

Probably seeing more than one pair of saucer eyes staring at her, she quickly assured us we’d be holding onto a pole and both instructors would be right there.

I don’t know about everyone else in the class, but this did not calm my fears one little bit, and as the lesson time wound down, my anxiety wound tighter.

Way before I was ready, we were lining up behind the diving board. I kept slipping to the back of the line, putting off the inevitable.

The other instructor, noticing my fear, offered to jump with me. On shaking legs, I slowly climbed the ladder after the instructor. Together we put one hand on the handle of the long pole.

“On the count of three,” she said. “One, two, three…”

Instead of jumping on three, I shoved the instructor in and grabbed onto the diving board railing. That was the end of my swimming lessons.

But just because I was afraid, didn’t mean I didn’t want to swim, though.

Over the years, I would go to the pool or the beach or parties, and watch in envy as other kids seemed to have a blast. They would hurl themselves from diving boards, shrieking with delight. They’d zip through the water, playing Marco Polo or tag.

All the while, I would cling to the side of the pool, paddling my feet, pretending I was swimming.

But I wasn’t. I would never really swim, never experience the unique freedom of being in the water until I let go of the side of the pool. 

Enter my dad. He was an awesome swimmer. He could walk across the bottom of the pool on his hands which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. It definitely gave me street cred with my little friends, too. After all, none of THEIR dads could do that.

Instead of making me climb up on a diving board and jump into the deep end, my dad spent many hours with me in the shallow end of the pool. At first, he would keep his arms underneath me as I kicked away. With him holding onto me, the water held no fear for me.

Then he used one arm.

Then he used one hand.

Then, I was swimming across the shallow end with only his finger under my chin.

When he finally took that one finger away, I panicked. I started thrashing around. Immediately, his hands reached out to hold me and my panic went away.

We went back to one finger under the chin for a few minutes until he told me he was going to take his finger off. I protested, but he told me to just watch him. He assured me he was right there. That he could reach out to me at any moment. He would not let me sink, much less drowned.

So, keeping my eyes trained on my dad, I swam the length of the shallow end. You would have thought I had just won an Olympic gold in freestyle when I finally reached the other side – all by myself.

The difference between success and failure in this case was trust. The simple truth was I trusted my dad to protect me and keep me safe. Those instructors, as nice as they were, couldn’t even begin to compare.

This year, the word God keeps pressing on my heart is TRUST.

As I step into this new year, I have a lot of things going on in my life that require trust. From my writing, to my children, to friends and family that are struggling, God is asking me to trust Him.

It’s so easy to say we trust God, but walking it out day by day is a lot harder, isn’t it?

Worries, fears, what ifs – they can all make you doubt. But when I cling to those things, I limit what God can do in and through me.

Sometimes, it’s hard though, to simply trust and obey, though. It feels a lot like letting go of the side of the pool and kicking out to that scary place – the no man’s land of the middle of the pool where there are no sides to cling to. But I will never know the freedom that truly trusting brings without doing that.

Without letting go, you can’t glide through the water; you can’t experience the wonder of flying through the air to land with a splash, and then shoot back to the surface. You miss the joy an exhilaration that comes from just letting go.

So, I am left with a choice to make. I can continue to cling to what feels safe, or I can take God up on His invitation to trust Him.

My choice doesn’t change who God is, but it certainly changes how I live my life. I don’t want to miss out and stay stuck, clinging to what feels safe, while never really experiencing all that God has for me.

How about you? Has God given you a word for this year? I’d love to hear about it!

The Importance of Looking Back

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

The other day, Brody came home and shared that during Bible class they had all taken a Myers-Briggs personality test. If you aren’t familiar with Myers-Briggs, you can check it out here. Basically, it includes four different pairs of traits with 16 different possible combinations.

It’s kind of a joke among family and friends that my oldest, Brock, is like his dad, and my youngest acts just like me. So, it was no surprise that our Myers-Briggs results were basically the same. He is an ENFP, and I am an INFP. The E and I stand for extrovert and introvert. (That basically means that he gets his energy from being around other people, and I recharge by being by myself).

Despite that difference, there are a lot of ways my son and I are alike. One of those ways is that we are both idea-people, with ideas popping up so fast, it’s kind of like whack-a-mole, but with ideas.

 

Looking Back Isn’t My Natural Tendency

As idea people with lots of different interests and passions, it’s easy to jump to the next project or idea without ever looking backward at all to see what worked and what didn’t with previous things.

This tendency is never more present for me than at the start of a new year. I get excited about all the possibilities, and ideas for projects and goals flood in. This makes things difficult in two ways. First, it’s hard to know what ideas and goals to pick because as I’ve been learning in recent years, I can’t do ALL THE THINGS! The second issue is that I get so excited about what is coming up that I usually forget to take a look behind me to see what I’ve learned, so I can better move forward.

Giving Yourself the Gift of Time

So this year, instead of jumping in with tons of goals and projects the first week of January, I’ve given myself the gift of time – time to sort through 2017 (which was a tough year around here), and look at what I learned. Before stepping into all the new and shiny,  I want to take stock of the old and broken-in and decide what I want to take with me and build upon in the new year.

This is a practice I want to implement in more areas than just new year’s resolutions, though. I did a lot of journaling about what I was learning as I worked my way through the Gospels this year, and I wrote out a lot of my prayers this year to stay focused.  I also wrote down quotes from some of the books I was reading.

Taking the time to look through those journals was eye-opening and encouraging. I was able to see ways that God answered my prayers, themes of what God was teaching me, lessons I’d learned, and wisdom I had read (which would have been lost in the files of my brain probably forever if I hadn’t written them down!).

Lessons from 2017

As I look back at 2017, I’d love to share with you a few key lessons (besides the importance of looking back!) I learned that I hope you’ll find helpful, too.

The importance of writing things down

As I said before, I did a lot of journaling this year, and it was a huge blessing in my life. I tend to process and learn through writing, so writing down what I was studying and learning as I read my Bible helped me to both remember what I was learning and be able to go back to refresh my memory. I have also started to write down my favorite quotes from books I was reading. Since I read a lot, this has been an especially great practice for me, so those little gems don’t get lost or forgotten!

The importance of prayer

It seemed everything I read, everything I heard all pointed to the importance of prayer. I know this seems like a no-brainer to those of us who grew up in the church, but knowing something and doing it are two totally different things. In my quest to understand prayer better, I did a short study on prayer in the Bible. It showed me a few things. First, I found that the prayers recorded in the New Testament had much more to do with others spiritual well-being than their physical well-being. Not that we shouldn’t pray for others physical well-being, but it’s equally, if not more, important to pray for their spiritual well-being, too. The second thing I saw was the importance of being persistent. This is something I struggle with because it feels rude to me, but it’s stressed multiple times with positive results.

The importance of the eternal

I spent much of 2017 reading through the Gospels. For whatever reason, I had kind of resisted studying the them. After all, wasn’t it four versions of the same, exact story? Hadn’t I heard all the stories umpteen times? I am so glad that I overcame that resistance though because God showed me so many awesome things. One of those things was the value Jesus placed on the eternal over the physical. This year was a year of loss for me. I not only lost my dad, but a great-aunt and great-uncle, along with my parents’ best friends. That eternal perspective was a life line during loss.

The importance of doing one thing at a time

In our crazy, busy world, it seems like you have to multi-task to even have a hope of keeping up. What I realized this year is there is no such thing as multi-tasking. In reality, you are just switching back and forth between two or more things. As someone who is easily distracted, this is just a recipe for disaster for me. I have found great freedom and peace from giving myself permission to concentrate on one thing at a time. Try it, you might like it too!

The importance of knowing your limits

In the past year, God has been really teaching me that I can’t do all the things. I know this should be fairly obvious, but I have struggled with over-scheduling myself and being very stressed out as a result. I am the queen of thinking I can do way more in an allotted time period than is remotely possible. Because of that, I have felt a lot of frustration last year. I am also interested in a lot of different things, so I have a hard time saying no to new commitments. So, this year, I’m trusting God that I won’t miss anything important as I limit what I focus on and clear off my calendar.

The importance of anchoring your hope in Jesus

As I looked back in my journal, I saw over and over again that I had doodled the words from an old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” With everything going on in the world and what was happening in my own, personal world, I realized once again that the only firm foundation is Jesus. It is only through HIS strength that I can do anything at all. It is only through HIS steadfastness that I can have peace in the midst of turmoil.

The importance of planning ahead

I am not much of a planner, and tend to be more of a by the seat of my pants type of girl. I tend to resist planning because it feels restrictive to me, but I am learning that when used correctly, it can offer freedom. By planning ahead, I can eat better, use my time more wisely and be more intentional about spending time with my people. I started work on my first novel in November, and I decided that I needed to do some plotting (planning ahead) rather than just diving in. This has been a refining process and doesn’t come naturally for me, but I believe I will have a much better, richer novel than if I had just plunged in without any planning at all.

The importance of leaving the outcome to God

I don’t know about you, but when God asks me to do something I tend to get all wrapped up in the outcome. As I prepared to speak at a teen conference in the spring, I found myself tied up in knots over how good of a job my words would do. I had gotten caught up in the trap of thinking the outcome was up to me. In reality, all God asks of us is our obedience. He is the one who is responsible for the outcome. I don’t know about you, but that takes a huge load off my shoulders.

So how about you? What did God teach you in 2017? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

When Christmas Feels Dark and Hopeless

Is it just me or has 2017 felt like a rough year?

The world has seemed like a darker, harder place this past year. On a personal level, there has been a lot of death in and around my life in recent months.

Since April, my great-aunt and uncle passed away. My parents’ dearest friends both died within months of each other – one in August and one in November. My dad left us in early September. One of my best friends is fighting for her life because after 12 years, her body is rejecting her transplanted lungs. The son she and her husband waited years to adopt will be two in January.

And it’s not just me that death has touched either. Our pastor lost his father only a few weeks ago, and another church member lost her two-year-old grandson after a kidney transplant they never thought he’d live to have. There are so many people I know that are fighting cancer or other scary diseases.

Sometimes life just feels dark and hopeless.

This year, I’ve done a lot of journaling, both in Bible study and in prayer. As I flipped through my journal the other morning, I noticed something.

I do a lot of doodling in my journals and on page after page, I had doodled the lines of an old song. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.”

That’s not a song I hear a lot anymore, but there it was in my journal. Not once, but many times.

As we come up to Christmas, the story is so familiar isn’t it? In our Bibles, the difference between the last book fo the Old Testament Malachi and the Gospels is a simple flip of the page. But the reality is, that flip of the page represents 400 YEARS of silence from God.

Four centuries of echoing emptiness. No prophets. No messages. No Word of the Lord.

Hope in the Dark

So, when we come to the story of Simeon in Luke 2:25-35, his faith stands like a shining beacon in what was surely a dark and hopeless time. His faith really was built on nothing less than Jesus – even though Jesus hadn’t been born yet.

Sure, the Jewish people said they were looking for the Messiah, but how many even believed that promise anymore? How many gave more than lip service to something they had waited for, well,  centuries? With no new word to give hope.

What I love about the Bible is that every time I read a familiar story, God shows me something I haven’t seen before. I’ve heard the story of Simeon many times. I’ve read the verses and thought, “Oh, that’s nice.”

But this time around, it brought me up short.

This time the echoing silence seemed to ring in my own ears. This time I could almost taste the dark  hopelessness of a people whose promise of deliverance seemed distant and dim.

Just a Regular Guy

Who was Simeon? Well, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I always thought he was a priest for some reason, but he’s not. He’s just a regular guy.

The verses in Luke say he lived in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. The big difference is he was looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. This was a big deal since the Holy Spirit wasn’t promised to every believer at that time.

In fact, the Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. And Simeon believed him. 

That was the difference about Simeon. He wasn’t just looking for Israel’s consolation. He believed the Messiah was coming. In his lifetime. Even though, the silence to the nation was deafening.

God Sees Our Faith Even in the Darkness

I love that God noticed an individual’s faith and that He blessed Simeon because of it. Yes, the nation was in silent vacuum, but Simeon wasn’t.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (emphasis min) Hebrews 11:6

The Bible is full of the difference individual people’s faith had – Enoch, Noah, and Abraham to name a few.

This story also reminds me that Jesus’ birth was a light during a dark and hopeless time.

I don’t know what is weighing you down today. I do know there are a lot of people who will not find this Christmas season one of joy and togetherness and celebration, but instead will find it hard and lonely and a little hopeless. May I say, Jesus’ birth STILL shines a light, no matter how dark or how hopeless or how silent your world feels right now.

 

 

Why You Need to Fail

I Still Remember My First Taste of Failure

I remember the first time I really felt like I had failed in a big way. I was heading into my senior year, and I didn’t make the cheerleading squad after being on the Varsity for two years.

The worst thing about not making the squad was the total shock. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it since the coach kept asking me to demonstrate various jumps and techniques during the tryout period.

I remember staring at the list of those who made it, scanning the it over and over. I was baffled as to why I couldn’t find my name. It took several reads for it to finally sink in. I hadn’t made it.

My senior year suddenly looked completely different than how I had been imagining it.

As I blinked away tears and shrugged on a mask of indifference, my initial sadness was quickly replaced by embarrassment and humiliation. I had failed. I wasn’t a cheerleader anymore.

I had lost part of my identity.

That failure left a lingering taste of bitterness in my mouth, and to this day (I’m 44), I still feel the temptation to try to explain that failure away because it still kind of embarrasses me. Even after all this time, that first taste of failure still stings.

Sometimes Failure Is the  Whole Point

For the past several months, I’ve been reading through the Gospels, and as I came to the end of Luke I came to the familiar story of Peter denying Jesus. I’m sure you’ve heard all the sermons too, right?

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Growing up in church, I’ve heard a lot of sermons about this particular passage, everything from God’s grace to our fallibility as humans to the fact that satan can only get at us with God’s permission. But there was one thing I never noticed before – Jesus did NOT pray that Simon wouldn’t fail. 
Is it just me or do you find that kind of strange? I mean, wouldn’t it make sense that Jesus would pray that one of His dearest disciples wouldn’t betray Him? Wouldn’t it seem logical that Jesus would pray that Peter would pass the test?

But passing the test wasn’t really the lesson. If you read those verses again, you can see what that lesson was supposed to be: “and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

It wasn’t some kind of huge surprise to Jesus that Peter was going to fail this test rather spectacularly. He TOLD Peter, “Hey, Buddy, I know you have good intentions, but the reality is that you’re going to deny me before the rooster even crows tomorrow morning.”

We Always Seem a Bit Surprised By Failure – But God Isn’t

Peter – the same Peter who a few hours later would whip out his sword and cut off a guy’s ear – couldn’t even fathom denying Jesus. Peter was a fisherman. He was probably big and burly, and he was more than a little rough around the edges. He was probably the guy you did NOT want to pick a fight with. He was brash and impulsive (see the ear thing above). He often stuck his foot in his mouth far enough to choke himself (remember when he rebuked Jesus for saying He was going to die?).

But Jesus knew something that Peter did not. He knew that in order to truly be a servant leader, Peter had to fail and fail big.

It’s not that God doesn’t want us to succeed, but the thing is, as much as we don’t like it, we often learn way more from our failures then we ever do from our successes.

God had big plans for Peter, but He had to get Peter into the right mind set. He had to impress on Peter it wasn’t Peter’s abilities or goodness or leadership skills that were going to make him one of the main leaders in the early church. It was ALL God.

What satan meant for harm, God allowed for Peter’s ultimate good. God allowed satan to sift Peter to get out the bits that were useless.

When farmers process wheat, the first step is sifting it or separating the chaff from the actual grain. The chaff is this kind of dry, scaly stuff that encases the seed or grain. It serves a purpose as the grain is growing, but it’s totally useless and renders the grain inedible once it is time to actually use the grain for food.

It was time for Peter to step to the next level, so God allowed satan to get to Peter. Satan’s purpose was to sideline Peter, but God’s purpose was to soften Peter.

The first thing Jesus prayed for was Peter’s faith

When we fail, it is easy to allow our shame over our failure to keep us from continuing to seek to follow God. After Christ’s death, Peter went back to fishing. He figured Jesus was dead and he was washed up as a disciple because of his failure. Jesus went and found Peter at the shore. He commissioned Peter to go and feed His sheep.

In our own lives this might look like not attending church or not reading our Bibles or praying since, you know, we failed so God must not want any more to do with us.

If that were the case, though, the Bible would be a whole lot shorter. If you comb through its pages, if failure was all it took to sideline God’s saints, there would be precious few on the field of play.

David basically forced himself on another man’s wife and then killed her husband to cover up his misdeeds. Moses killed a man and ran away to the desert, a fugitive. Jacob’s life resembled something out of Jerry Springer with his two wives and their maids. Abraham passed his wife off as his sister and tried to hurry up God’s plan by having a baby with his wife’s maid (and you can see how that turned out!).

Obviously, failure didn’t cancel out faith.

The Second Thing Jesus Did Was Give Direction for After Failure

Jesus told Peter, “and you, once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus knew, not only that Peter would fail, but that he would repent and return from that failure. Peter’s screw up probably gave him a lot more empathy for his brothers and their struggles.

Isn’t it the same in our lives? I remember being a young mother to a toddler son who talked in sentences when he was less than a year old. Not only that, but all I had to do was explain why he shouldn’t do something and he didn’t (of course, I now realize that isn’t the norm!).

I honestly could not figure out what was wrong with other mothers and their bratty kids. I mean – just explain it clearly? How hard was that?

Then I had my second son (you probably see where this is headed), and suddenly, all that false pride I had in my own mothering skills evaporated.

Simply explain why you shouldn’t do something? That guaranteed he’d smile and do exactly that!

Have a reasonable discussion on why he couldn’t do something or have something? He’d throw a flaming fit – usually in public – for maximum mother embarrassment.

I can’t tell you what an unbelievable failure I felt like as a mother as I walked through Kmart one memorable day, while Brody screamed the entire way because I refused to buy him a bouncy ball (because the poor child onlyy had about 100 in his collection).

Did I enjoy these times? NO!

But it certainly taught me a lot. It softened my heart toward other struggling mothers, and allowed me to offer encouragement rather than judgment. It stripped me of my misplaced pride and introduced me to some much needed humility. It made me rely on God for direction and discernment rather than my own perceived abilities.

To this day, I look at my boys and thank God for the work HE has done in their lives. I have a keen awareness that while being a mother brings great responsibility, the outcome isn’t completely up to us. It’s up to God and His plans, His purposes and His timetable.

Failure, no matter what that failure happens to be, has a way of turning our eyes off of ourselves and toward God – if we let it.

I’m not sure what failure you are carrying around with you or how you are allowing it to limit you and keep you from moving forward.

I do know that failure is not a sign that God is done with you. Rather, it might just be a signal that God is preparing you for something way bigger than you can imagine.

 

 

 

 

 

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