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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

(Feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!)

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***

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Saying Hello to 2015

New Year's Day always overwhelms me a bit. It's one of those days that other people seem to be prepared and ready for...and I'm not. It sneaks up on me while my Christmas decorations are still up and I haven't yet turned the last page of the former year's calendar. Nor have I bought the new one.

Other people have chosen "the word" for the upcoming year. I'm still trying to figure out what last year was all about. Other people have new and interesting goals and resolutions. I'm just trying (for the humpteenth time) to get more regular about cleaning the house, doing the laundry and blogging.

This year I did put a little thought into the new year before it got here, mainly because I'm so sick of 2014. It was not a good year. Well, I take that back. God was mighty good to me in 2014. He showed me more of His glory than I'd seen in many previous years combined. He stuck close to me and wouldn't be shaken loose from me for anything. He proved Himself true and faithful and good and delightful.

So while I cried some tears and sorted through some difficult transitions and endured some tough issues with my dear family members as well, all in all it was a stellar year. Disregard my initial whining. To God be the glory.

Still, I'm counting on having a whole lot fewer crying days and a whole lot more days filled with pure joy this year. In good faith, I believe this will be a year of wholeness and a holy healing. And I'll settle for nothing less. I'm making that claim based on the fact that I'm already experiencing a hardy if not slightly fragile season of healing. I feel like I've finally come up for air, and the breathing is easier and sweeter, and, more importantly, I feel like the waves have calmed. But even if the waves returned, I've learned to float...resting back into my Father's embrace rather than fighting against the current. I'll be okay. By the grace and goodness of God, I know that I will be okay. I am okay.


Here are a few thoughts I'm taking into 2015:

  • Rejoice. I have a wonderful life. You do, too. Even if things don't seem blissfully perfect (whatever that means), God has laid the boundary lines of our individual lives in pleasant places. Each day that He wakes me up and sends me out into the world is an opportunity to enjoy the life He has blessed me with and to spread the joy He's given me with a hopeless world.
  • Love. That's an imperative tense verb, by the way, not a title. Love is an action. And sometimes it has absolutely no fuzzy warm feelings attached to it. Sometimes it's all work. Love is patient and kind...and patient and kind some more. It sees the green monster of jealousy rising up and squashes it with determination. It stops demanding that it is right. And when it realizes that it's being childish and selfish...it takes a time out until it can put on big girl pants and straighten up, for pity's sake! It finds that list it's kept of wrongs endured...and burns it. And it stops counting and naming the offenses from that point on, giving grace upon grace instead. It doesn't get all sassy, happy when other people blow it, thinking that other's mistakes somehow make it look better. No ma'am. Instead it rejoices only when truth prevails and sets us all free. Finally, it believes all things, bears with all things, hopes all things and endures all things. All things. All things. Yes, even that thing. It's time to really love other people instead of just swimming around in some small, lukewarm pool we like to call love.
  • Serve. It's not about me. I'm talented at making it all about me. That's not a real talent, by the way. But serving others with no regard for repayment or applause or appreciation. That's a talent. That's a blessing. It's time to serve others. Funny, but when I rejoice in God's goodness and commit to really love the way He does, serving is a whole lot easier.
Happy New Year, friends. What reflections are you taking into 2015 with you? 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Words Will You Serve?

While the work of it all sometimes overwhelms me, I do love to welcome people into my home during Christmas. Whether a friend drops in for coffee and a cranberry orange muffin or we gather with several other couples around our large, square dining table, I love to pour a little sweet hospitality out during this sacred season.

But I've often made the mistake of putting more effort into preparing the cheese ball and the pecan pie and the specialty coffee than I have the words I say to my guests. That is I did make that mistake until I realized the nurturing effect our words can have.

You know by now that I strongly believe in the satisfying and nurturing power of God's Word. I believe that when we "eat" His Word by meditating on and even memorizing scriptures that speak to our souls' desires God truly satisfies our hungry souls. And we, in turn, are able to live fuller and more contented lives.

Now God's words are so powerful that He was able to create the world by simply speaking it into existence. And Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God continues to use His Word to accomplish powerful things in our lives. But while our words may not create worlds or do our bidding, they do have the ability to build up or destroy, to encourage or defeat, to heal or to harm. Wouldn't you agree?

In Mary and Elizabeth's verbal exchange during that very first Christmas, we find a beautiful example of a conversation that served up words of blessing, testimony and grace. Maybe while we're setting the table for our own guests or baking cookies for our families we should ponder the words these two expectant mothers spoke to one another as they anticipated the appearance of Emmanuel, God with us.

Words of Blessing
When the young, virgin Mary entered the home of her older cousin Elizabeth, she was greeted by words of exuberant blessing. Elizabeth didn't let a minute pass without reassuring this young woman that she was indeed up to the task God had called her to. She covered her with blessings and encouraged her to stay the course.

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And [a]how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who [b]believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her [c]by the Lord.”

Surely Mary breathed in this blessing and breathed out renewed confidence and courage. She must have sighed with relief to hear the assurances of this older woman.

Our children crave our blessing. They want desperately to know that they are doing at least something right, that we see potential blooming forth in their inexperience, and that their simple faith and hesitant obedience will carry positive consequences. They want to hear us bless them with joy and passion and excitement and anticipation. And they must breathe a sigh of relief when we rejoice in them rather than berate them, nag them or shake our heads at them. How can you speak satisfying words of blessing to your child's hungry soul this Christmas season?

Words of Testimony
The next words spoken in the inaugural Christmas conversation come from Mary, newly refreshed by Elizabeth's kind blessing:

46 And Mary said:
My soul [a]exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
“For He has had regard for the humble state of His [b]bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is [c]upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
He has done [d]mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the [e]thoughts of their heart.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
“He has given help to Israel His servant,
[f]In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his [g]descendants forever.”

Mary doesn't grab hold of the blessing and feed it to her pride. Instead, feasting on the encouragement and enthusiasm of her cousin, Mary praises the Lord with words of grateful testimony. The bottom line is really found in the 49th line of this chapter: For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.

When guests come to our home they may or may not enjoy hearing about the accomplishments of our children, the latest antics of our pets, or the journeys of our vacations. After all, such tales are largely one-sided and leave little room for true give and take.

But start bragging on the great things the Lord has done and you open wide the opportunity for others to share similar tales. Don't you just love to hear what God is up to? I do. You might want to put your vacation slides away for a family only viewing night and you might tone down the talk of your children's latest successes. That kind of bragging sometimes annoys house guests. But you can't fail when you share how the Mighty One has done some great things. Just be sure to give Him all the credit and resist the urge to share the spotlight.

Words of Grace
I don't really know what was said next between these two expectant relatives. The conversation ends there in the text. But this is what I do know. These two mamas-to-be weathered the final three months of Elizabeth's pregnancy together and then they parted, I'm assuming, on good terms. So there must have been a lot of grace doled out between them!

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

When extended family and other house guests set up camp in our homes during this holiday season we'll be wise to dole out a little grace, too. When your grown kids come home from college and strew their things all over the house? Grace. When your husband is off from work and in your hair? Grace. When your mother-in-law takes over your kitchen? Grace. When your sister shows up without the side dishes she was supposed to prepare? Grace. When your neighbors show up for your open house the week before it's scheduled...and stay a while? Grace!

I love preparing menus, shopping for just the right extras to round out my feasts, and cooking up yummy delicacies this time of year. Maybe you do, too. But gals, we better choose our words carefully, prepare our hearts (from which all those words flow!) and hold our tongues when the words on them are of the sour variety rather than the sweet. The folks who come into our homes are more likely to remember well the words they feasted on than they are the china we served their meals on.

What will you do to prepare a satisfying feast of words this Christmas?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tea Talk with Kay

Today is the first day in oh so many days that I have been by myself in my home with more than a few minutes to fill and feeling healthy. My wonderful mom was here right before Thanksgiving and I savored every minute of that visit. We cooked some of the dishes for my family's Thanksgiving day meal and put them in the freezer, decorated for Christmas and just enjoyed being together. It was a splendid visit!

Then Thanksgiving was upon me, followed quickly by a trip to Pennsylvania, where I spoke to the women's Bible study groups of Christ Community Church in West Chester. I had a lovely time there and thoroughly enjoyed seeing what God is doing at that powerful church. My hostess Carla picked my brain asking me question upon question about my salvation, my calling into ministry, my experiences as a pastor's wife, and my family. And I loved answering her questions. She reminded me just how wonderful it feels to have someone so interested in you that they dig into the depths of your soul a little. That's a gift...and a treasure. Thank you, Carla, for caring enough to want to know about me!

When I got home from Pennsylvania I went straight to work! I took a little part time job at Talbots for the Christmas season. I wanted to try something new, get out of my comfort zone, meet some new people and earn a little cash for Christmas. I just work five hours at a time, and I'm absolutely loving helping women shop. That's right up my alley!

So I worked last Friday and Saturday, was home sick with a stomach bug on Sunday and worked again Monday and Tuesday. Today I returned to teach my final women's Bible study classes of the semester. I love those ladies! I tell them frequently that they are the highlight of my week, and that's no exaggeration. There's just nothing sweeter than talking about our loving, trustworthy and gracious God with other women who love Him as much as I do. And they are all such devoted students of the Word, whether they are struggling to get their little ones to nap so they can open their Bibles for a few minutes or they are more seasoned women with more time at their disposal. And then there's my evening class, which I'll meet with in a couple of hours, that is full of working women who make time in their busy schedules to draw aside with their Bibles each day. I love that these women love God enough to work at getting to know Him and I love that they love His Word!

I had lunch with a dear friend after Bible study this morning. The weather is cool, but sunny and a little balmy here in southern Arizona, so we grabbed lunch at Wendy's and headed to a local park to eat outside. We laughed and listened and talked about big and little things. She smiled when I needed her to smile and nodded when I craved a little affirmation. When I shared my heart she didn't think I was a fruitcake. That's always a plus.

And this afternoon, before I sat down with a cup of tea to touch base with you, I tried a recipe I came across on Pinterest for old-fashioned shortbread. I used this recipe here. And it turned out pretty well. The texture is great. I should have made mine a little thicker than I did and I'd add a little more sugar for my sweeter tooth next time, but I'll definitely save this recipe. It's the perfect accompaniment to hot tea or afternoon coffee.

I made the little cookies today because I already had the ingredients on hand and because I felt like I needed to do a little something just for me. I wanted to enjoy my decorated house and the quiet of my home. I wanted to do something a little domestic, but I didn't want a long drawn out project. Sometimes I just need to putter. You too?

What do you enjoy doing when you have a little chunk of time to enjoy the solitude of your home? Do you find yourself longing to do those simple things a little more during the Christmas season? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Do All Good Things Really Come to an End?

I get the blues when I turn the last page of a really good novel, especially one in which I've grown to love the characters. I'm tempted to order a second dish of Pinkberry when I finish my bowl of pomegranate frozen yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and mango on top. And I'm one of those people who is never ready for a vacation to come to a close. I love home, but I just can't ache for it while I'm lying on a beach or hiking through the mountains or standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Come on...

Bottom line? I don't like for good things to end. And yet, we know that all good things must come to an end, right?

I've experienced several endings in the last few years. For example, my child rearing years have ended. That's been a tough one. I completely dedicated myself to being a mom to my children for 21 years. And before you say that was shortsighted of me and that I shouldn't have been so absorbed with them, let me put your concerns to rest. I was also involved in ministry, deeply in relationship with friends and my husband, and pursing other interests as well. But I loved the noise and busyness and dinner-in-the-oven aromas and large loads of laundry and laughter of raising my children.

But that has ended. And now it's quiet and my time is more my own and dinner is rarely cooked in an oven and the laundry amounts to two little loads a week. My husband and I laugh with each other, but we miss the sarcastic wit of our son and the high octane energy of our daughter.

Endings. New chapters. Bleh!!

And, like I said, I've got other endings where that one came from. I'll not go into details, but suffice it to say that they were not all anticipated or desired or relished endings. Some of them have been hard and sad, and sometimes they have wreaked of the odors of rejection and loss and grief and unfinished business.

Endings remind me of undesirable truths, such as:

  • nothing in this world is permanent (except the souls of believers and the Word of God)
  • life is fragile
  • life is a vapor
  • anyone has the potential of disappointing you at some point
  • life is made up of seasons
  • seasons change
  • feelings change
  • people change
But endings have also taught me something else, something much more important and hopeful:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end.
(Lamentations 3:22)

I have clung to this hope-evoking scripture in recent months the same way I clung to my daddy's hand when he talked me into going through a haunted house as a child. Petrified of whatever lay around the corner (or behind me or beneath my feet, for that matter), I gripped my daddy's hand and insisted he hold onto me. Okay. Actually I was 17, but still... I've been laying hold of and holding onto this sweet biblical truth with that same tenacity.

Remember God's love is not just some abstract emotion He feels toward us. His love wouldn't let us go. His love compelled Him to send His only, perfect Son to live and die for us. His love compels Him to seek us out. His love compels Him to pursue us with a hot jealousy and unyielding passion, letting nothing get between us and Him (Romans 8:38-39). His love compels Him to forgive us. His love prohibits Him from ever abandoning us...or even glancing away for a minute. His love fastens His adoring gaze upon us, consumes his mind with innumerable thoughts about us, propels Him to speak to us and walk with us, and sustains His long-suffering patience with us. And His love will one day prompt Him to send His Son back to fetch us. He absolutely adores us.

He adores me. He adores you. And that will never, ever, ever, ever, ever...end. Never. It never pauses or wanes or shrinks or becomes less effective. His love never ceases. Thus, His mercies--those tender gifts of compassion and grace--never come to an end either.

Praise the Lord! His love never ceases. It's higher than the heavens are above the earth, It overflows the deepest oceans. It cannot be contained or explained or refrained. It never, ever ends.

Have you recently turned the last page in a book you loved? Sure, maybe you've finished a novel with pages and a binding. But maybe you, like me, have also closed a beloved chapter in your life. Sad, huh? Truth is, seasons come and go. Sometimes people do, too. I hate that. I really, really do. But I cling to the fact that God's love never goes away. Never, ever, ever. And as I've meditated on Lamentation 3:22 that has become enough for me. His never-ceasing love is enough. Amen.

What do you love about God's never-ceasing love? How have you seen Him love you in recent days? Please share...