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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Embracing This New Season

Today is the last day I will hear the children laughing and shouting at one another. The balls that bounce into the air and the jump ropes that swish the ground and the whistle that signals the children to come running to the big glass doors will all be put away for a few months.

It's the last day of school.

Every weekday morning during the school year I savor the sounds that waft through my sliding glass door from seven-thirty to eight o'clock. I love hearing the children gather in the massive school yard behind my house. I liken my fascination with this cheerful sound to watching goldfish swim aimlessly around in a large fish tank. It soothes me, engages me from a safe distance. I'm far enough away from the playground to prevent me from distinguishing the words being exchanged. I can't pick out hateful, bullying tones from gleeful, friendly ones. It all sounds like happy, whimsical and carefree chatter to me. Truly, it's music to my ears and singing to my heart.

During the summer months a handful of children will play in the playground sporadically throughout the days. But it won't be the same. I won't hear the entire school gather during that thirty minutes. I won't hear the faceless teacher blow her whistle. And I won't be privy to morning announcements or the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance as they sound over the loud speakers attached to the back of the building.

It will be quieter. School will be out.

I remember well the easily marked changing seasons during my growing up years, don't you? The beginning and ending of school, football season and softball season, marching season and concert season, summer vacations and Christmas break. They all marked distinguishable seasons in my well-ordered life. Band practices and trips marked my fall calendar. Piano recitals and softball practice marked the spring pages.


When my children were in school the seasons of my life continued to be marked by the events on their calendars. But now that they are grown, many of the seasonal markers have vanished from my radar. I don't automatically know when the first high school football game is, when little league registration opens, when spring break comes or when the last day of school arrives.

My year has more continuity.

But seasons still change, don't they?

Seasons of life change, too. Change doesn't just occur when the last school bell rings or the first football is kicked toward the opposite goal line. And seasons don't just come and go with spring's first green buds or autumn's colorful foliage.

Seasons shift and change and close and begin all through our lives...in myriad ways. We experience seasons in:

  • marriage
  • parenting
  • careers
  • ministries
  • churchlife
  • family
  • friendships
  • communities
  • economics
I always welcomed the change in seasons, the beginnings and endings, the shifting of time...when I was growing up. And even when I was raising my children and seasons and years were drifting by faster than I could buy my children's new school clothes or snap pictures of their trophy moments or plan their birthday parties or compile their scrapbooks...I easily went along for the speedy ride. I just enjoyed each moment and then let it fly away. Change, I knew, was part of the bargain, and there was no resisting it. Not if I wanted to experience joy and peace as a mother.

But those other seasons? Seasons in churchlife, ministry, family, friendships, health, marriage? Some of those have been difficult to adjust to. You don't always see those changes in season coming. You just look back one day and realize things changed somewhere along the way...you don't know quite where. And you weren't planning on them either. They weren't on the calendar. No one sent a reminder in the mail or posted a notice on a bulletin board. 

How do you handle the changes in season? Not the shifts from winter to spring to summer to fall. Not even the expected changes of kids growing up. But how do you cope with the seasonal changes in relationships, health, ministry, marriage, careers and more? Do you enjoy them, savor them? Or do you resist and cling and dig in your heels...to no avail?

Today after the children filed into the big doors for the final time this school year, I listened to what I assume was the Principal's voice carry through the speakers and into my sliding glass door. She explained to the teachers something about report cards and then thanked the children for giving themselves to a wonderful school year. She finished with a cheerful, "Have a great summer!" She closed out the season.

Has God closed out a season in your life recently? Did you celebrate or resist?

If you've made it this far in this lengthy blog post, I'd like to briefly share a personal note with you. 

God recently...over many recent months...closed out a season in a precious friendship I've shared with a dear woman. He didn't close the friendship. But He did change the season. 

And I fought it. I resisted and dug in my heels...to no avail. Just because you keep your Christmas lights attached to your house doesn't mean the snow won't melt and the birds won't return. And taping each leaf to your maple trees won't keep them from turning orange in October and falling to the ground in November. Seasons change, whether you resist or not.

This change in my sweet friendship happened gradually, but it also came suddenly. It took me unaware. But over time, as I loosened my grip and softened my heart, God gently and soothingly spoke truth to me that I needed to hear. He created new things as He dug up the old. He shifted my gaze from what I had lost to what was on the horizon. He put to rest my anxieties and fears and stirred up new dreams and hopes and affections. 

And finally, just in recent months, He has settled me. I have found myself in a new season, and I have learned to enjoy it. I have relaxed my shoulders, smiled at the future...and the present, let go of the past with deep gratitude and the fondest of memories, granted grace for any offense (even if it was only perceived and never intended to wound), and learned to love with a healthier, holier heart.

Whether this is the kiss of spring or the chill of winter, it doesn't matter. Seasons aren't necessarily good or bad. They are just necessary and right. God is the author of every season, you see. And He can be trusted.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Thy faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:21-23)

Friend, if God has ushered you into a season of life with which you have wrestled...I feel your pain. I know the struggle intimately. But I'd like to suggest that you loosen your grip, soften your heart and draw close to the Author of your season. He means it for good in your life. He's still in control. He still loves you and has wonderful plans for your life. He's still there...right in the midst of your new season. Trust Him. You never know, these may be or lead to the best days of your life! I can say today that I have found great joy and peace in my new season. You can, too.

School's out. Enjoy your summer!

How do you loosen your grip as the seasons slip by and things change? What season or life change has been the hardest for you? We'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Guess What... I Have a Board!

Today I stepped out on a limb and did two things I rarely do. I wonder if you shake in your fuzzy socks as much as I do at the thought of sharing your dreams with others. And would you rather throw up than ask for help with making those dreams come true?

Dreams are personal...and scary...and iffy. Dreams are...well they're dreams. You don't know whether to claim them as promises from God or to cling to them with sweaty palms or to dismiss them the way you would a beautiful but only-visiting-no-time-to-linger butterfly.

So when you speak your dreams out loud to people, even those you love and trust, you get nervous in your tummy and light in the head. And what sounded like a no-brainer, splendid idea just moments ago, suddenly feels ridiculous and brainless and...exactly what were you thinking, any how!?

When Joseph shared his dreams with his brothers they hated him and eventually did away with him. Maybe he just chose the wrong people at the wrong time to share his dreams, but his experience doesn't make us any more the confident to share our own God-shaped hopes and dreams.

Joseph had a dream, 
and when he told it to his brothers, 
they hated him all the more.
(Genesis 37:5)

But if we don't share our dreams and we keep them hidden away in our hearts, Satan tends to snuff them out like smoking candles. All we're left with is the scent of what once burned bright in our hearts and imaginations, but the motivating power of the goal God gave us has been lost.

I don't want my dreams snuffed out. I don't want to smell the smokey scent of the passions God planted in my heart that fizzled because I didn't hold out my little flame and pass it on. I don't want to look back and wonder what could have happened if only I'd been so bold as to speak out loud those uncertain words, those fuzzy dreams, those tentative "what ifs."

That's why I asked five dear friends to have lunch with me today.

I gathered them around me and shared my heart. The words got a little jumbled up in my mouth a few times. Sometimes they tumbled out like old, wooden building blocks--not eloquent, not graceful, not even making much sense. But my friends listened. They heard my heart over my words.

I've been needing some help with my ministry. God planted visions and dreams in my heart years ago for ministering to women. I've seen many of those dreams come true. And, quite honestly, I've been amazed. But there are still more dreams, more avenues, more opportunities. And I can't do it on my own. I don't need much. Mostly I need shoulders...to lean on, to walk beside, to lift me up occasionally, to carry a little of the load, to nudge me in the right direction. I need prayer and accountability. I need discernment and wise counsel.

So, not only did I share my dreams, but I asked for help. 

More wooden blocks bumped around in my mouth as I tried to share my need. And once again, they heard my heart over my clumsy words.


My friends are going to help me. They're going to pray and put labels on postcards and navigate opportunities and talk with women's ministry leaders and listen to me and ask me tough questions and help answer emails and pray some more. They've leaned in and offered their shoulders.

They heard my dreams and they didn't laugh. They heard my plea for help and didn't run.

What about you? Is it time for you to share a dream you've held close to your heart, so close that no one else even knows about it? May I suggest that you bring it out into the light? Invite a few friends (there's safety and joy in numbers) and gently, clumsily, obediently, faithfully share your God-shaped dream. Hey, it's been thousands of years since anyone ended up in a pit because they shared a dream!

Or maybe you need to ask for a little help. Here's the thing about asking for help. You have to be willing to accept a "no" as well as a "yes" or "maybe." Each of my friends are helping me in different ways and to different degrees. They are in varying stages of life and have their own dreams to live, after all. But I am grateful just to be on their radar. There's definitely something to be said just for being on a Christian sister's radar, isn't there?

Today I did two difficult things: I shared and I asked. Sister, if I can do it, you can, too. I'm so glad I did.

What have you done lately that took a little more courage than your normal, mundane task? I'd love to know!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Has Life Knocked You Down?

Sometimes life knocks us down...knocks the air out of our lungs and the wind out of our sails. But we can get back up. Hope gets us back up.

For I hope in Thee, O Lord;
Thou wilt answer, O Lord my God.
- Psalm 38:15

God is gracious to fill us with hope that fortifies us, steadies us, strengthens our resolve.

Hope fills our lungs with peace and our sails with joy. Hope brightens the future by shining a light at the end of the tunnel. It assures us that life is worth living and God is good...and always enough.

Now may the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Romans 15:13

But we can't just stand there...filled with hope. We require faith to move forward. Hope gets us up on our feet, but faith gets our feet walking forward. We walk forward...through the fire, through the storm, over the mountains, during the famine, through the pain...because we have faith.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.
- 2 Corinthians 5:7

Faith in what? Oh, that matters. A faith that moves us forward...consistently, fearlessly, with determination...is not a misplaced faith. We miss the point if we place our faith in the goodness of humanity, the fairytale ending, the promise of things getting better.

Our faith must be placed in the character, the ways and the Word of God. We must believe Him...

  • that He is big.
  • that He is with us.
  • that He is working all things together for good.
  • that He always keeps His promises.
Faith in God alone will move us forward when the circumstances of life have stopped us in our tracks.

But life isn't just about walking forward. Life calls for us to engage. If we just walk forward, but don't engage, we don't really live. Instead, we isolate.

...if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, 
but do not have love, I am nothing.
- 1 Corinthians 13:2b)

Hope gets us on our feet. Faith moves our feet. But love keeps us engaged. Love enables us to reach out and grab a hand for support...reach out and give...reach out and serve...reach out and forgive...reach out and embrace...reach out and share. Love allows us to walk hand in hand and heart to heart with others who struggle, but also hope and believe.

But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13

And that, dear friend, is why it's important to keep a soft heart...even in life's hardest places.

Which do you struggle with the most? Having hope, faith or love in a tough season of life? I'd love to pray for you. Please let me know how I can pray for and encourage you in your difficult season.

Friday, May 8, 2015

You're Not Being Punished

She had plans...good intentions. When we met at the beginning of the week her face was bright and hopeful. Her words were determined and sure.

But now as we sipped our sodas in my car at Sonic, she seemed deflated and...ashamed.

"It almost sounds as if you're ashamed of yourself," I offered carefully.

She put her drink cup in her lap, stirred the straw around nervously and admitted, "I am."

But she didn't need to be. You and I don't either.

Sure, things hadn't gone as she'd planned. She hadn't accomplished a few of the things on her to-do list, her emotions had gotten the best of her a few times and one day she'd spent the day in her pajamas. But she didn't need to be ashamed of that.

You and I don't either.

If you've felt the gracious grip of conviction over a particular act or attitude or conversation...lean into it. Listen to it. Heed it. Let godly guilt produce godly sorrow and genuine repentance.

But if a blanket of self-loathing and shame has settled on you because of "everything you did wrong" yesterday...shake free of it.

That's not God. He doesn't blanket you with shame; He covers you with grace. He doesn't shake His head in disappointment; He extends His hand in understanding. He doesn't turn you away in disgust; He embraces you with patience.

I hope you are rejoicing over sweet victories and blessed triumphs as we approach the end of this singular week on the calendar of eternity. But if you've had a tough week...the kind where

  • you said the wrong thing more often than the right
  • you slipped down instead of climbing up
  • you took two steps backward for every one you took forward
  • you felt helpless in a sea of overwhelming emotions
  • you had good intentions...but...
please remember, Jesus is not ashamed of you. You don't need to be either. 

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
(Psalm 103:13-14)

It is okay to be human. It is okay to have feelings and to make mistakes. It is okay to be who you are. Yes, the Lord has big plans for you. He is working doggedly to conform you to the image of Christ. And, praise Him, He will not quit. He is determined to finish the good work He's started in your life. 

But, sister, He will not throw His hands up in the air in disgust, shake His head in shame or walk away in defeat. He knows you...and He is still wild about you. 

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, 
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
(Psalm 103:10-11)

Do you feel like perhaps God is punishing you because you're too slow, you're not getting it, you messed up again, you didn't meet your goals or you entertained defeating emotions? Sister, He acknowledges those human patterns and traits. He sees them for what they are. And yes, He is working to grow you up and create in you new character. But He is not punishing you. 

He never deals with you according to your sins. 

He deals with you according to His character...His grace.

Choose today to rejoice in the little milestones instead of the defeats. Praise Him for even the tiny victories and celebrate with Him the grace that flowed. You've been given another day, after all. He's not finished yet.

I hope you have a blessed weekend, one of restoration and hope. Lean into Him, weary sister. He loves you so.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

When Your Child Breaks Her Ankle...or other catastrophe

Abby, I'm not posting about your broken ankle...or the surgery you had a week later...or the terrible effect the pain meds had on you...or the emotional roller coaster we've all been on for the past two weeks. That's not what this post is about. It's not about you.

It's about me -- the caretaker.

My 21-year-old daughter Abby did indeed break her ankle during a production of Othello two weeks ago. And, since she's a theatre performance major, her injury and pursuant surgery have caused major and, ahem, dramatic problems in her life. But they caused some pretty significant problems in mine, too. And since I've been instructed not to post about Abigail's woes, I won't. I can't speak for her anyhow.

But let me tell you something sister. I've learned a thing or two about being my child's caretaker after a major accident. No, my daughter didn't incur long term or life altering injuries. Praise the Lord. And I know other parents do have to navigate those life changing situations. So I haven't been through the worst case scenario. But I think I do have something to offer the mom whose son breaks his arm during baseball season, whose daughter contracts Mononucleosis during her senior year of high school or whose daughter takes a tumble and doesn't get to cheer the rest of the season. And even if your situation is more serious, you might find something here that will help.

I felt completely overwhelmed as a mom from the get-go when Abigail called from the emergency room to tell us her ankle was broken and she would need surgery. I didn't even know what to do first. Do I immediately get in the car in my pajamas and drive the 80 miles separating us? Or do I change clothes and go? Or do I take time for a shower and pack a bag?

I chose the latter. After running around my house aimlessly for a few minutes, trying to get my wits about me, I decided I might not have opportunity for a shower any time soon once I picked my injured daughter up. I was right. I'm glad I took the hour to shower, wash and dry my hair and even put on some makeup. I wouldn't have the opportunity to do any of those things again for about three days. And I felt a little more equipped to handle the twists and turns of the day because I looked and felt like myself.

That said, I'd like to offer you just a few more lessons learned from my experience taking care of my precious daughter during her crisis. I certainly hope you never need these, but you might. And even though all of our emergencies tend to be different in nature, I think you'll find these lessons to fit across the board.

You're not alone.
As long as we're packing lunches, shopping for back-to-school supplies or putting together birthday parties, we feel like we're doing the normal mom thing...in good company. But when we detour into uncharted territory, we feel alone. We've never been here before and we suddenly can't recall any of our friends ever doing this before either.

But you're not alone. As I drove to the hospital and during every quiet moment I had thereafter, I prayed fervently to feel God's presence and to hear His voice. And my prayers were answered. He walked through every day with me. He whispered sweet reassurances to my insecure heart. And He gave me wisdom for making decisions I'd never faced before.

You don't have to do this perfectly.
I was in the middle of reading Holley Gerth's latest book You're Loved No Matter What when Abby broke her ankle. Up to that point I had been thinking that this book about battling perfectionism with the love of God wasn't really for me. But suddenly I found myself frustrated because I didn't know how to navigate this new territory correctly. I had never been here before, and I was petrified that I was going to somehow injure my daughter further if I didn't get my act together and handle her physical, emotional and spiritual issues the right way.

But as I read a little of Holley's book each night before drifting off for a few hours, I began to realize that I didn't have to do things perfectly. God was not surprised or thrown off guard by Abby's accident. He had a plan and He was working it. I just needed to do the things I could do -- give her her medicine on time, provide ice for her ankle and sit with my hurting daughter -- and allow Him to do the rest.

Mom, you don't have to do whatever you're being called on to do perfectly either. You do your best. Ask for help from others when it's appropriate. But trust that God is at work in it all, too.

Your child's going to be okay.
It may not be okay. But she's going to be okay. Abby didn't want to have surgery. In fact, she's passionately agin' it. Know what I mean? But in the long run, she managed. God worked: He provided gracious and kind nurses, a calm and knowledgeable surgeon and, perhaps most importantly, a huge team of anaesthesiologists who all loved college basketball (or at least they told Abby they did) and were all really handsome. (She had her surgery at a teaching hospital, so this team was made up of interns and residents who looked like they had just walked off the set of Grey's Anatomy!)

Your child may go through some really tough stuff -- chemotherapy, unpleasant tests, extreme nausea, surgery, transfusions, etc. That stuff is not okay. I get that. But if your child has to go through it, God will make a way. And He'll get them through it. He'll build into their make-up whatever it takes to pull them through. He promised that they can do absolutely anything through Jesus who gives them every ounce of strength they'll need. Sister, you have to trust that promise.

Now I'm not promising that things will go back to normal or that it will be easy. I'm not telling you that your child will not be stretched, will not cry, will not suffer. They may. But, by the grace of God, they will indeed be okay.

Take care of yourself.
It may feel indulgent to take a shower, a nap or a walk. I understand the mixed emotions that accompany the decision to do something for yourself when your loved one is hurting and helpless. But if you don't do a little something here and there for yourself you will be of no good to your child.

Depending on the length of time your child is healing or enduring treatments, you may need to call in friends and family members to help you so that you can care for yourself occasionally. People will undoubtedly offer to help; let them. And when you take them up on their offer, be prepared for the fact that they may not be able to do what you're asking when you're asking for it. That happened to me a couple of times. But I just kept asking until someone was able to say yes. And I did not hold it against those who couldn't say yes. I knew they wanted to, but they had life situations going on, too.

Bottom line...
Taking care of someone you love during a crisis situation is very exhausting. Not only do you perhaps have to lift things, put in long hours and do things you've never had to do before, but you also grow weary from the emotional stress. You care and you hurt for them and you want so badly to make things right and good again. Plus, you're navigating new territory. It's all just a little scary.

But sister, you can do it. By the grace of God, you can do it. You have more to offer than you know. And you'll learn along the way. (I now know how to secure a temporary disability parking placard and I know that you can get your hair washed at Cost Cutters for just $5!)

I'd love it if you'd share any wisdom you gleaned when you were caring for your child during sickness or injury. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Are You the Most Excellent?

I had monitored the situation pretty well for months. So I knew what to expect. Except there was always the exception. There was always that one classs in which I was riding the fence. And when I received that little brown envelop with a dozen signatures in my mom's fluid handwriting on the front, I'd pull out the worn card inside and my eyes would go right to that one class.

"A". That's what I was looking for. Would the grade for that one class match the grades for all the others? Would they all be "A"s or would I receive the one, occasional "B"? 

Now here's the full disclosure. I didn't need to be perfect. I rarely scored a 100% on anything. And if I did, I didn't keep records. To me a 90% was as good as a 100%. That was just my way of calculating excellence. You may have a different way. But I never considered myself to be a perfectionist. 

Sure, I scanned the report card looking for all "A"s, but I knew none of those "A"s represented 100%. So when people despaired over being perfectionists, I checked out of the conversation. I wasn't one.

Turns out, however, that while I wasn't a perfectionist I was an excellor. 

I may have just made up a word, but it fits. I wanted to excel. At everything. I wanted to be excellent in every area of my life. Quite honestly, while I was willing to give myself enough grace not to be perfect, I still expected to be the best at everything. 

That attitude set up a double conundrum. I wanted to be best, but I didn't want to work hard enough to be perfect. That meant that if anyone else did better or achieved more or came closer to perfect...then I was desperately jealous of them. Voila! I put pressure on myself to achieve the highest praise and be the best. And I was pathetically jealous of anyone who did better.

I remember having a conversation years ago with my friend Kim. In the safety of that friendship I finally confessed to someone that I struggled with needing to be the best...not perfect, just the best. Now Kim is one of those friends who actually thought I was pretty darn good at a lot of things. She admired my talents in writing, singing, cooking, etc. But she boldly warned me that day, "Kay, you might be best at something for a little while, but eventually someone else will come along who is better. It happens every time. So why don't you just aim to be your best instead?"

I've held onto and revisited that advice many times over the years. And it's freed me up in so many ways. But one of the most precious results of heeding that wise advice has been that it's released me from the jealousies I battled. 

When someone sings better than me (and MANY people sing better than I do!), I enjoy their beautiful voice instead of resent it. When someone cooks a dinner that blows my cooking out of the kitchen, I enjoy the fruits of their labor instead of stewing over it. When someone writes a blog post that employs both beautiful phraseology and sing-song words and speaks to my soul, I praise the Lord for ministering to me through their words instead of trying to one-up them. And when some sweet mama tells me about something creative and beautiful she did with her children that I didn't do when I was raising mine, I count myself fortunate to have such a smart friend rather than marking her off my list of friends.

Maybe being an excellor is just as damaging and dangerous in the long run as being a perfectionist. Both are awfully tiring. Both lead to jealousies and competitions. Both create loneliness rather than community. And neither are God's desire for us.

You see, friend, God has already made us complete and beautiful. He doesn't send us out into our days to be perfect or even best. Instead, He offers to walk with us through the grit and the grime, the ups and downs. And all along the way He gives grace, grace, grace. In our weakness - our imperfections, our failures, our shortcomings - He proves strong and able and enough. 

Holley Gerth suggests in her new book You're Loved No Matter What that we swap perfectionism for excellence. But to a gal who was plagued for years with the need to be excellent at everything that didn't sound like a viable option to me. Until I read on.

Holley writes, "You have only so much time, energy, and emotion in your day. You must decide how to use those resources. It's okay not to be excellent at everything." Wow! That frees me. What about you?

She continues, "When you intentionally choose not to be excellent in an area, it's not failure; it's wisdom. It's using your life well." Holley recommends that you evaluate the gifts, talents and passions God has uniquely given you and choose to strive for excellence in those areas alone, allowing other people to shine and help you out in the other areas of life. I like that.

Are you a perfectionist? Or, like me, have you struggled more with being an excellor - someone who strives to be most excellent at everything, resenting those who are better and counting them as competition rather than companion? Either way, I'd like to suggest you check out Holley's new book for yourself. I'll admit, when I first picked it up I thought it wasn't for me. I'm not a perfectionist, nor have I ever been. Right? (Grin.) But her words resonated with me because while I may not strive to be perfect, I still get hung up on the need to be best occasionally. Holley's encouragement has given me renewed freedom and hope today. I think it would do the same for you.

So, friend, here's to a most excellent day! One in which we enjoy the grace of God and do our very best to please only Him. One in which we love fully and excel in a few things, but we give Him all the glory in the end anyhow!

Do you struggle with perfectionism? What has helped you have a little healthier perspective on living well?

One more thing! You can help spread the love for Holley's new book here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Just a Few Words that Can Change Your Marriage

My bet is you have a busy week ahead. Maybe you're waiting to catch an airplane, to pick up a child from piano lessons or to let your nails dry...and you have just a few minutes to read something worth your while. I'm glad you stopped in here today because I have just a few encouraging words that could truly change your marriage this week. Maybe they won't fix everything, but they could iron out a dent, freshen the air or let out a little tension. 

Gals, here are just a few words you could say to your husband this week that might infuse a little life into your relationship. You don't have to write him a letter or give him a speech. Sometimes big changes can result from just four words...or three...or two...or even one!

"Will you forgive me?"

I believe it was the movie Love Story that taught us that "love is never having to say you're sorry." Well, that was false doctrine! Love says I'm sorry, but it also seeks true reconciliation, looks out for the heart of the other person, values the other's feelings and humbles itself. 

How good are you at apologizing? I'm lousy at it, but my husband, bless his heart, is so good at it that I've picked up a few lessons. (By the way, my husband doesn't need to apologize more often. He just does it, while I struggle with it.)
  • If you catch yourself saying the word "but" during your apology, watch out! You're wiggling out of it. Don't do that. Face the music and lay down your weapons.
  • Don't just say, "I'm sorry," but clarify what you're apologizing for. 
  • Ask for forgiveness. When you ask the other person to forgive you, you're showing them that their response matters to you and that you value the relationship you share.
Apologizing is hard, but I'm guessing we'll all have opportunities for practice this week.

"I love you."

Probably most of us throw those three little words in at the end of a phone call or before we go to bed. But how wonderful is it when someone just surprises you with those words of endearment in the middle of dinner, in a moment of weakness, as you ride down the road or while you walk hand in hand? Take the time to intentionally show your husband love, especially in his love language (words of affirmation, acts of service, meaningful touch, gifts or quality time), along with those three powerful words, every day for a week.

"Dear Lord..."

Obviously I'm not suggesting you address your husband as lord. Instead, these are two words you need to be saying on his behalf every day. No, not in exasperation either! In prayer.

If you're struggling with how to pray for your husband, may I suggest a few things?
  • Pray for him to feel God's presence and hear His voice.
  • Pray for him to be obedient to God's leadership.
  • Pray Ephesians 3:16-20 for him.
  • Ask him how you can be praying for him.

Our men crave respect every bit as much as we desire to be loved. We can show our husbands respect by listening to him, refraining from interrupting, affirming him when he serves his family well, showing appreciation for the contributions he makes and encouraging him to fulfill his dreams. 
  • Wow! That's a great idea.
  • Wow! I hadn't thought of it that way.
  • Wow! You got the garage so clean we could eat out here!
  • Wow! You're looking good in those jeans!
I'm not suggesting you patronize your husband with insincere compliments. And I don't know that you should preface every affirmation with the word "wow." But you might trying saying the "wow" in your head and then following through with honest and appreciative words that honor him. He could use some enthusiastic affirmation from the one he's chosen to spend his life with. 

You may have some major overhauling to do on your marriage. Most of us find ourself in that place somewhere along the journey. But overhauls can seem overwhelming. Why not start with just a few words instead? Maybe one this week, two next, and so on. 

What words have infused life into your marriage? We'd love to know!

Monday, January 19, 2015

More Vivid than Nightmares

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I had a bona fide nightmare last night. Not only were bad things happening to me in my dream, but I was actually the bad guy. Oh my! I'll spare you the rather gory details, but let's just say it resembled an episode of Law and Order (which I watch way to much of, evidently).

I dream vivid and often exhausting dreams most every night. If you have a solution for that, please let me know. I'd love to turn life down a little more in my sleep. I think I'd rest better without having to star in my own technicolor nocturnal films every night. But alas I've dreamed big all my life.

Those midnight story lines aren't the biggest dreams in my life, however. While I may awaken tired from working things out with my head on my pillow, I have learned to put those imaginary antics away fairly quickly by turning my heart and mind to praising the Lord, anticipating the activities of the day or listening to encouraging music.

The dreams that really drive me are the ones God has planted in my heart. Like Martin Luther King, whom we celebrate today, I have dreamed dreams, too. I have dreamed of seeing God do great works in my church. I have dreamed of my children growing up to be adults who love and serve the Lord in the unique ways He has created them to. I have dreamed of my marriage growing in sweetness and joy, culminating in an adventurous retirement. I've dreamed of ministering God's Word and love to the hearts of women so that they find their hope and peace in Him. And I've dreamed other dreams too personal and fragile to share in such a public forum. You, too?

Some of my dreams have come true. Some are in process. And some are for future days. Sometimes my dreams frustrate me because life seems to take me on detours in the opposite direction from those dreams. Sometimes I feel I may have dreamed up my dreams, know what I mean? Like maybe they are more wishful thinking than God-inspired visions.

I don't think any of these dreams were birthed in my sleep. I guess that may happen to some people. It happened to Joseph in Genesis 37 and another Joseph in Matthew 1. But my dreams have all begun as joyful inclinations, tugs on my heart, tiny seeds of hope divinely planted by the mysterious hand of God.

Sometimes I didn't even know I had a dream until someone else noticed it first, pointing out to me that a certain desire seemed to be driving much of my thoughts, conversation and goals. Other times the dreams surfaced as I journaled or as I talked from my heart to someone who pressed in and asked the right questions. Still other times my dreams came alive in that still, quiet place I share with God alone...maybe as I read from His Word or poured out my heart to Him in prayer.

Nightmares and silly dreams often light up our nighttime slumber, but for God's dreams to burn in our hearts we must walk consistently in His light. He alone is the one who plants dreams of hope and passion and purpose...that actually come true.

Do you have dreams that tug at your heart and light up your soul? Do those dreams sometimes seem too big and out of this world? Do they feel improbable and, well, divine? And for those reasons, do those dreams sometimes seem silly and vain?

Don't discount your dreams, sweet friend. God plants dreams in our lives in order to spur us on to the good works He has divinely designed for each of us to accomplish (Ephesians 2:10). And if those dreams seem awfully big and beyond you, that's all the more reason to believe that indeed they come from God. After all, He's a mighty big God, able to accomplish so much more than you ever dreamed or imagined on your own (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Today I begin writing a new Bible study--one I've dreamed of writing for some time now. And I'll be carefully examining the life and amazing testimony of one of those dreamers: Joseph (Genesis 37-50). This man who lived thousands of years ago has been such a compelling example to me in recent months as I have begged God to keep my heart soft while walking through a hard place. For several weeks, however, I have dug deeper into Joseph's story and found oh so much more to grab hold of than I first thought was there. And I can't wait to share what I've found with you and others.

Will you pray for me as I walk full force into this dream? I would appreciate your prayer support and encouragement so much.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to explore the concept of God-planted dreams a little more and perhaps gain some perspective on how to better reach toward those dreams, may I suggest a couple of books that have blessed me tremendously?

First, check out Holley Gerth's You're Made for a God-Sized Dream. It's available both in paperback and electronic formats.

And then you also might enjoy her 40-day devotional guide, Opening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream. It's available in hardcover, paperback and ebook.

Dream on, sweet friend!

By the way, this post is not a paid or solicited endorsement of Holley Gerth's books. I just liked them and thought you might, too!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Could You Use a Little Inner Strength?

I feel a little fragile lately. I have those moments in my days, mostly when I'm tired and worn, when I honestly think I might break.

My human strength fails me sometimes.

Add to that the fact that Satan seems to be aiming a few extra fiery darts my way these days, as I have committed myself to the task of writing a new Bible study. I can usually spot the blazing arrows lies, but I sometimes weaken when it comes to fighting back with truth. I know the truth. But it's just almost too hard to load my gun with it and take aim. You, too?

My Daily Bread

I'm participating in Living Proof Ministry's Siesta Scripture Memory Team challenge once again this year. It is undoubtedly one of the most effective discipleship tools I've found. I'm a firm believer in feeding our hungry souls by meditating on soul satisfying scripture 3-4 times a day. And if you do that, you WILL memorize it!

But if we don't employ a little accountability or a prize at the end of the goal, we're not likely to complete the challenge. So I log in my chosen scripture every two weeks or so with thousands of other women on the Living Proof blog here.

My newest memory passage is Ephesians 3:16-17 in the New Living Translation:

I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. 
(Ephesians 3:16-17, NLT)

Don't you just love the layer upon layer of strength that these verses offer through God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Paul is praying for the Ephesians to find in God a strength that endures, stays established in the weary and worn moments, stands up strong against Satan's fiery onslaught, and accomplishes much good for the Kingdom. That's the kind of strength I'm praying for, too.

Do you need a holy braid of Rock solid strength in your life? Maybe you're facing a battle of your own. Maybe life's demands are wearing on you in this particular season. Maybe you've grown weary from a test or trial that has outstayed its welcome.

May I suggest that you feast upon this biblical prayer several times a day? And then trust that God will indeed answer it in your life. He wants to. Oh, how He wants to.

Bless you, sweet friends!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Favorite Day of the Week

Today is my favorite day of the week. Has been for more than 20 years now. Want to know why? You'd have to follow me to the intersection of Golf Links and 7th street, walk into a room filled with talkative ladies ranging in age from early 20s to mid 80s, grab a cup of coffee and sit down with us all. And then we'd open our Bibles.

Since many of us are attempting once again to complete a Bible study - new year's resolutions and all, you know - I thought you might enjoy a repost of one of my more popular posts from the past. Enjoy! Oh, and Happy Wednesday! It's Bible study day!
If I know anything about my readers at all, I'm pretty sure that many of you have either just begun a group Bible study or you're about to get started shortly. 'Tis the season!

Let me ask you a few questions about that.
  1. Do you usually complete the Bible studies you begin?
  2. And by complete, I mean do you successfully finish all of the work in the workbook and attend all or most of the class sessions?
  3. And by complete, I mean do you get all you can out of it? Do you look back and realize, perhaps with a little awe, that you've actually changed over the course of the past 8 or 11 or 22 weeks due to your time in the Word of God?
My hope is that many of you would concur that you truly do complete the studies you start. But after teaching women's Bible studies for over 20 years now, I'm experienced enough to know that many women do not manage to get to the finish date with a completed workbook, much less checks in all of the spaces beside their name on the attendance roll. And, worse yet, many women get halfway through a study and then find themselves checking out of it discouraged, defeated, and even, sometimes, swearing off the notion of taking future Bible studies.

Listen, it's not easy for me to complete a study either. I've often joked that one of the reasons God has me teaching Bible studies to groups of women to whom I am accountable is because He knows I wouldn't do my homework otherwise. Fact is, this is no joking matter. It's the truth! I find every excuse in the book to put off my assignments just like the next woman. Once I've completed my daily study, I'm so glad I did and I feel challenged, informed, invigorated, and refreshed by God's Word. But I struggle to open my study book and Bible as much as you do.

So what's a gal to do in order to successfully complete a Bible study? Keeping in mind that the Bible tells us in Galatians 6:9

And let us not lose heart in doing good, 
for in due time we shall reap 
if we do not grow weary,

I'd like to offer you 9 tips for enduring to the end in Bible study this year so that "endurance" can have its perfect work in you and you'll be complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4)! Now, I need to prepare you; some of these will sound a little stern, a little stiff. But, sister, sometimes that's what it takes to endure!

***Printable download 
available at end of post!***

E - Enlist a study buddy for accountability. It's best if you can enlist a friend with whom you feel close enough to be gut level honest about whether or not you finished your homework, memorized the memory verse, did the special assignment, etc. But if you don't have that close of a friend with whom to take the study, you can always ask the teacher or facilitator to keep you personally accountable as well. Give her permission to privately ask you the tough questions!

N - Never schedule anything on the day and time of your group sessions. I know that sounds stiff, but you need to protect this precious time just as you would a work assignment, a scheduled appointment, etc. Protect it at all costs, because if you don't and you miss a session, you are statistically more prone to quit doing your homework and skip the next session too.

D - Determine a time for daily study and stick with it! Whether it's early morning, during your lunch hour, or late at night, carve out a time for dedicated Bible study and follow through.

U - Understand the battle being waged around you. The last thing Satan wants is for you to unearth the treasures in God's Word. He doesn't want you to understand and embrace truth; that would keep you from believing his lies! So he will definitely fight you on this. With that knowledge in mind, fight the good fight and carry on!

R - Reward your successes. You don't have to give yourself a huge, costly reward every time you attend class or finish your homework, but you could treat yourself at a coffee shop on the way to class, treat yourself to a cookie while you study, or plan a pedicure for the last day of class. (I always feel like I need one after I've had my toes stepped on throughout the study!)

A - Ask for help. First, in prayer ask God to help you hunger for His Word, study it diligently, and apply it correctly. Seek the Holy Spirit's help each time you sit down to study. But also ask your group facilitator for help if you ever get stuck in the homework or have difficulty understanding a passage or an assignment. Don't let defeat set in because you won't ask for help.

N - Necessitate your attendanceHere is one of the best tricks for completing a study. Make your attendance at group sessions indispensable. Volunteer to help with administrative tasks, to make the coffee each week, to be a table discussion leader or to give someone else a ride. Rope yourself into this thing. I'm telling you, it works for me!

C - Commit to the study. This may sound very basic and elementary, but you'd be surprised how many women tell me they're going to "give Bible study a try." That never works. Those folks are the first ones I start missing on Wednesdays. In fact, many of them buy the book and never even show up. Commitment is key!

E - Enjoy the study! Make it fun. Get to know the women in your group. Go to lunch with them, exchange recipes and books with each other, meet new women during the coffee break, wear something special to class, buy new highlighters for the study, and enjoy feasting on the Bread of Life! Approach Bible study with a glad heart!

What tips do you have for women who are struggling to complete their Bible study? How did you overcome the hurdles you have faced in this area? We'd love to know!

*** Get the printable version of these 9 Tips here***