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Monday, August 3, 2015

6 Ways to Make This Move Easier on Your Soul - 6

You've made the move, you've said hello and you've run into a few snags. But that's ok, because you anticipated that not everything would run like clockwork, right? Now there's one more thing I'd like you to do:

Plant yourself.

Even if you're only going to be a nurse in that hospital for two years before your next assignment. Even if you're only going to be in graduate school for one year. Even if you're only going to be at that military installation until...well, until you get orders to go somewhere else.

Regardless of how long you'll be around, plant yourself.

Ok. You may not want to sink your roots too deep. I get that. Deep roots just create harder goodbyes. I understand. But may I at least suggest that you gradually, oh, so gradually, plant yourself as deeply as you can in your new environment?

This is life. This is it. You don't want to wait to start living until after you finally find your final destination. For one thing, you don't know where that final destination may be. So while you're testing out the waters and trying to figure out where life will take you next, you could waste precious life moments if you don't intentionally plant yourself in the soil of your current surroundings.

James wrote to the church in his epistle:

4:13 - Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

By refusing to plant ourselves in the ground where we stand, we're really shaking our fists at God and assuring Him that we have other plans. Pure arrogance.

I know, because that's what I did when I moved to where we now live...and have lived for over ten years! Arrogance.

How do you plant yourself? Here are a few tips. But beware. These may take you deeper than you ever meant to go! Are you game?
  • Join a church. Hunt around. Pray about it. Find a church that preaches the true gospel and tries to love on people. And join that church. Commit to support it financially, prayerfully and with your attendance. And you take on the task of helping to protect the unity of that fellowship.
  • Join a ministry in that church. Become a greeter, volunteer in the nursery, sing in a praise team or choir, help with vacation Bible school, or work with the youth. Visit with the pastor or a staff member and tell them about yourself, your gifts and talents and experiences. Ask them to help you find a place of service. They will slap themselves silly and grin real big and say, "Thank you!"
  • Meet your neighbors. I know that's not normal these days. We tend to drive into our garages and lower the door and never peek outside. Resist the urge to follow the crowd! Go door to door and meet your neighbors.
  • Have those neighbors over for...something. Barbecue, picnic, s'more roasting or dessert party. Engage with your neighbors...even if they all look at each other like aliens from different mother ships! You make the effort.
  • Join a club or group. The choices are endless and you can find information about all kinds in the newspaper, local Internet posting groups and Facebook.
  • Make some friends. I mention that because the temptation is to make some acquaintances. Know what I mean? Sure, make some of those, too. But put in the work and be a friend to someone so you can make a friend. We're talking effort here, people. Planting yourself, whether it's in the church, the community or someone's heart, takes work and intentionality. And it's worth it.
Each spring my husband and I buy little plastic sleeves of flowering plants and herbs to plant in the clay pots in our backyard. Now at the end of summer they just die. They're not in those pots for long. 

But we enjoy the months that those beautiful flowers spill over the sides of the big clay pots. It's worth the effort.

However, every year we buy too many plants. And my husband usually leaves a few in the little plastic sleeves. Meanwhile, I keep watering them so that when he does get around to planting them they'll be ready to take root. He intends to plant them, I think. But he never gets around to it. 

Those flowers that don't get planted in the pots so they can put their roots down in the soil eventually die. But the flowers that take root in the large clay pots thrive all summer. It's just a season. But for that season...in that place...they bloom.

Bloom. First, you'll need to plant yourself.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

6 Ways to Make This Move Easier on Your Soul - 5

When you move to a new place...please say hello.

I'll admit: I've enjoyed a pass on this one. For each of my past four moves I've had hundreds of people waiting at my destination to say hello to me. Granted, most of those hundreds of people cared to do little more than say hello. Not everyone at each of the churches my husband has pastored really cared to go beyond hello and get to know my family. But at least I had a venue, an opportunity and a built in reason to say hello.

My bet is that you have some built-in hellos wherever you may move to as well. The girls down the hall in your dormitory, the other teachers on your faculty, the other nurses on your shift, the fellow students in your classes, your children's teachers, the neighbors surrounding your new home...all are waiting for you to say hello.

But even if you just crossed off every possibility on my list of ready and waiting hellos, you need to say hello...to someone.

Yes, some of us are extroverts and some are introverts. Some anticipate hellos; some dread them. But if you never say hello you'll never have the opportunity to engage, perhaps to befriend and even to love.

Jesus moved from town to town during His three years of manifesting God's glory. He said hello. He said hello to John the Baptist at the river and Peter and Andrew by the sea. He spoke to James and John as they mended their fishing nets and Matthew while he tallied the taxes he had collected.

Jesus said hello to the Samaritan woman at the well (even though she was a woman, a Samaritan and an adulteress). He looked up into a tree and yelled out hello to Zaccheus, inviting Himself to Zaccheus' house. Jesus said hello to sinners and Sadducees, noblemen and slaves, seekers and hiders, adults and children, Jews and Gentiles, men and women.

And why did He say hello? Because Jesus knew His purpose. He came to reconcile people to His Father. And guess what. While you and I are not saviors, we have that same purpose.

Now all these things are from God, 
who reconciled us to Himself through Christ,
and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,
namely, that God was in Christ
reconciling the world to Himself,
not counting their trespasses against them,
and He has committed to us
the word of reconciliation.
(2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

Whether you have moved to a military installation for a brief stay, a college for a few years, back home in transition, a mission field for a single term or a new home for an indefinite period of time...you need to say hello. While it may seem that your solitary purpose is to take a career course, finish a degree, serve a term or begin a new job, God has higher purposes in mind for you, too. You have been given the ministry, the job, of reconciliation. And how can you share the word of reconciliation with anyone if you don't say hello?

Let me encourage you to look at the people you encounter in your new surroundings with love and interest and friendly anticipation. But please also look into their hearts. See them as God sees them. Approach them the way Jesus would have. Say hello, engage, ask them questions and show them your Lord.

I hope you will say hello to some folks at a local church, too. They've been waiting for you. You may not be the new pastor's wife (or you may be!), but you have been anticipated just as much as I ever have been. You have as much to offer, as much to gain and as much of a responsibility to a local church as I ever dreamed of having. They may not have a big receiving line for you or dinner on the grounds, but they just might invite you out for a hamburger or linger in the parking lot to get to know you. 

You'll never know until you say hello.

Monday, June 22, 2015

6 Ways to Make this Move Easier on Your Soul - 4

It's funny how the little things matter so much more when you can no longer lay your hands on them. Mayonnaise was mayonnaise to me until I looked with dismay at the grocery display and found no Hellman's. Of course, when I finally got my breathing back to normal and the room stopped spinning, I noticed that the Best mayonnaise jar looked awfully similar to the Hellman's jar I had been familiar with. "Ok, but it better be the same!" It was.

I still can't buy White Lilly Flour where I live. It was a staple in my home in Georgia. 'Cause I made all those biscuits and pie crusts, you know. Well, I made one or two of each. But it was the principle of the matter really. A Southern cook has to have White Lilly Flour in her pantry. So for years I would lug a bag home in my suitcase each time I visited my mom in Georgia.

Moving carries with it stresses other than packing up, trucking it across the country and unpacking. There are little hiccups all along the way, both in the transition and in the settling in, that you really can't fully anticipate. Well, you can't anticipate the specifics.

But I encourage you to anticipate the unforseeble, all the same.

Consider this fair warning: You will encounter surprises.

The good news is that while some of those surprises may seem unpleasant and undesirable, many will in fact be sweet and delightful. If, however, you are so thrown off guard by the unpleasant and undesirable you just may miss and underappreciate the sweet, delightful and wonderful.

So here are a few things you might just need to open your eyes to...before you ever even make the move:

  • They won't do everything in your new town the same way they did it in your last town...especially if "your last town" was your beloved "home town." Anticipate...and accept.
  • You will not find a clone of your old church...anywhere. No. Where. Notta. So...anticipate and accept. 
  • You will have to wait in long lines to get things all registered and hooked up and settled...at the DMV, the library, the water department, the cable store, your child's new school, etc. It will feel like everyone is being rude to you. They really aren't. But it will feel that way, especially if you're wearing your emotions on your sleeve and comparing everything to how it was back in "your last town." So you might want to rethink that approach.
  • You will not find some of your beloved brands at your new grocery store. Of course, breathe deep and look again. Some just have different names in various regions of the country, but the labels usually look familiar.
  • Likewise, you will not be able to eat just like you ate in "your last town" if you've moved to a new region. There are no Krispy Kremes in Arizona, few Chilli's in Washington, no  Krystals in Texas and no Whataburgers in Georgia. If you're moving from New England to the Pacific coast you might have to switch from Dunkin Donuts to Starbucks and vice versa. But your dietary changes won't be limited to restaurants. Few people know how to cook pork barbecue in the West, and Easterners are still working on perfecting briskets and Mexican food. And if you're a Southerner looking for Brunswick stew anywhere outside of Dixie, forget about it. The rest of the country doesn't even know what it is. And it's a real shame. A real shame.
Yeah. You might as well go ahead and anticipate a few glitches. But in anticipating those glitches, I encourage you also to anticipate handling them with grace and style

Determine ahead of time to roll with the punches. I'm giving you this little fair warning not so you can load your weapons and blast anyone who looks at you wide-eyed when they don't know what you're talking about (Brunswick stew? What's that?) or thinks you talk funny. (Oh, did I mention that your accent, whatever it is, will not go unnoticed?) I encourage you to anticipate these annoying, frustrating hiccups so that they will not be quite as annoying or half as frustrating. Instead you can chuckle to yourself, grin with recognition and give a little grace.

Because here's what else you can anticipate. If you adopt the attitude of grace and enthusisasm, you can expect to find that:
  • Some things actually work better in your new town than they did in your last town...or even your hometown. I love the fact that the elementary school across the street from me lets the children gather and play freely in the spacious, gated playground behind the school for 30 minutes before lining up to go to their classes each morning. In our last town they had to sit on the floor in the gymnasium from the moment their buses arrived until the bell rang. Trust me, this is better.
  • There's a church for you in your new town. It may take visiting several before you find the right fit, but it's there. And while it won't be like your last church, it's a good church. It needs you in order to be complete. It may not have everything you'd like for a church to offer your family, but you have something to offer that they haven't had yet. 
  • Long lines are great places to meet people, especially people just like you who are new in town and needing friends, too.
  • There's a whole big world of new and different things out there for you to try. You might find a better brand of bread, a yummier ice cream, a fresher tortilla, a local coffee. Be willing to try new restaurants, new foods, local favorites. A farmer's market is a great place to find out exactly what is grown locally. Who knew we actually have tasty peaches here in Arizona? And while the Mexican food is different here from what we had in Texas, it's yummy. Note; There's a difference between being willing to try something and willing to actually like something new. Be willing and even eager to like it!
  • You just may meet your best friends in your new town. They may become lifelong pals, like family even.
  • You and your family may have opportunities in your new home that you wouldn't have had anywhere else. Just before Abby was born we moved to a town where I had the opportunity to take lessons in smocking, something I haven't been able to do since. But that's when I needed the lessons...and dozens of handmade, smocked dresses resulted.
  • You will actually grow to like some things better than you did whever you came from. I know that seems impossible at first, but it's true. I love, love, love the climate where we live in Arizona. I also love the ethnic mix of the people who make up our town. I love living among military folks. And I love the sunrises and the sunsets. Shoot, I even love the desert landscape. I didn't love any of those things at first, but I do now.
There will be hiccups when you move. Anticipate them so that you can be ready to dole out grace and go with the flow. Meanwhile, prepare yourself to try new things, meet new people, bend in new directions. If you'll give a little grace, you'll find yourself enjoying your new surroundings more than you ever anticipated.

Can you think of other little glitches we ought to warn those on the move about? Please chime in if you can think of things they need to anticipate...so they can be ready to give a little grace!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

6 Ways to Make this Move Easier on Your Soul - 3

Know That Things Will Change; 
God Will Not

With breathless enthusiasm my daughter recounted her experience of swinging through the air. She's a camp counselor at Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center again this year, but she's working with older kids. Since she worked with preschoolers last year she never had the opportunity to "fly through the air" on the giant swing of the challenge course. But this week she and the other counselors who will be working with older kids are learning the ropes, literally.

So yesterday she was carefully strapped into a gigantic swing and heaved up into the sky with strong, sturdy ropes of steel (well that's how I prefer to think of the swing my baby was on anyhow!). Then, when she was ready, she pulled a chord and swung fast and freely through the sky. Oh my!

Abby had been on ropes courses before, but she had never swung on a swing like this one. It was a new experience for her. Obviously there was a lot of trust involved. She trusted the ropes system, the people who fastened her into the harness and her supervisor who checked their work. And my bet is she said a little prayer on the way up and trusted that the Lord would somehow deliver her safely through this experience.

For most of us our faith has been built on the promises of God, but also on the experiences we've had with Him.
We've prayed for friends, and He's provided friends. We prayed for the money in our bank accounts to stretch far enough to meet our needs, and He made them stretch further than we had hoped. We asked Him to get us through a difficult ordeal, and He got us through and built character and strength into our fiber in the process. Again and again we've watched God provide and bring us through the storms of life. And with each proof of His love and provision, we grew to trust Him more.

But what about the new experience?
What do you do when God calls you to something new? How do you respond in faith when God requires you to step out into the unknown?

You may not have been down this very path before. New challenges may lie ahead that you never encountered before. And therein lies the test.

Have you been trusting God? Or have you been trusting in the familiar?

Regardless of whether or not you've ever encountered this particular challenge before, you have experienced God before. No, He's never walked you down this very path, but He's accompanied you on every other path. And He's proven Himself to be faithful.

You can trust Him in new territory because He was faithful and good and sufficient in the places you've been before.

Yes, this will be different. This season, this place, this experience, these people, this job, this school, this church, this ministry, this culture, this neighborhood, this house...will be different. But God will be the same.

God is always the same.

When God introduced Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He called Himself, "I AM WHO I AM." He was saying that He is self-existent, always the same, never changing and that all things hinge on Him. He later called Himself the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. He was saying that He was the same God to each of those men. He was and is consistent. And He's the very same God to you and me, too. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

He is our one unchangeable.

Whether you're moving into a new season of life or packing up and moving to a new place, you can count on two things.

  • Things will be different.
  • God will be the same.
I realize that first statement may cause you same pain, some anxiety, a little frustration and resentment even. I get that. I don't like change either. But the fact that God is the same and He walks with you into new territory should settle those restless fears and insecurities. 

Trust Him. And swing high, my friend! You just may find that you like this new experience more than you ever thought you would.

Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in You.
Show me the way I should go,
for to You I lift up my soul.
Psalm 143:8

What new circumstance, place, job, calling or season has God called you to? I'd love to know and pray for you.

Friday, June 5, 2015

6 Ways to Make This Move Easier on Your Soul - Part 2

We had spent well over a hundred dollars on sequins and tulle sewn onto a tiny little leotard. Sure, we'd be taking the purple, frothy costume with us when we moved, but Abby would miss the recital for which we'd purchased the get-up. This little Rockin' Robin wouldn't be rockin' with all the other little robins that she had finally begun to enjoy tumbling and tapping her feet and pointing her toes with.

And this mama bird was put out about it.

I'd already checked, and there wasn't a ballet studio for miles around the little town where we were moving. After eight months of me brushing Abby's long, tangled hair into a tight bun, pulling those pink tights over her chubby and uncooperative little legs, and bribing her with promises of ice cream in order to get her out of the car at the dance studio, we were leaving behind my dreams of Abby's career as a ballerina.

She couldn't have cared less. But I was put out.

Open Your Clenched Fists...and Let Go

When we move from one place to another we always leave something behind. Sometimes we gladly leave behind heartache and stressful situations and financial problems and mean people. We're glad to get out of Dodge.

Other moves are more difficult. We're going where we must go, where God has called, where the military has assigned, where the new job is or where family needs us. But even though we know we must go...and we're even excited or at least accepting of it...the move takes a toll. Even if we're anticipating good things ahead, good things wave goodbye in our rearview mirror, too.

If you're moving this summer or you've recently moved, I want you to know that I empathize with the torn feelings you may be having. I understand what it feels like to observe the pep in your husband's step -- with a mixture of envy, anger, joy and resolution -- while you struggle to "get on board." I also know what it feels like to watch your children say goodbye to their friends down the street, their teachers, the dog next door, their Sunday school class and that bench outside the library "I sat on that one time with my friend Eric while you were inside too long and we talked about our favorite tv show and he showed me his pet rock and" blah, blah, blah...

And yes, I know what it feels like to leave behind hopes and dreams and plans. Not just dreams of ballet recitals, although those are important and emotional enough to elicit a few tears. But I've left behind dreams of watching your friends' kids grow up, of sharing holidays with family, of living in that dream home you built, of growing with your church family and of building onto the friendships you've invested so much in.

I can empathize. But I can also encourage. You see, I've known the pain of leaving behind good schools and a classical ballet instructor and a gracious piano teacher and dear, precious friends and a good church and vibrant memories and big plans and so many other sweet, sweet things. But I've also known the peace that God provides when you open your tightly gripped hands and hold all of those blessings loosely and allow your gracious God to change them up a little.

Let's face it. I knew Abby was never going to be a ballerina. And sure enough, while a little dance studio did eventually open in the little town we had moved to, it was never of the same quality as the one she'd left behind. But when I finally quit scouring the phone book for dance studios in a 60 mile radius and released that dream, I found that God had other things in store for my daughter in that little East Texas town. She played T-ball and took piano lessons and rode her bike to school and played kickball with the kids down the street until the sun set every evening. In fact, 15 years later mind you, Abby still keeps in touch with those same kids, even though we moved to another state ten years ago and she rarely sees them in person.

We pried open our hands and opened our hearts, too. Our sovereign, loving God removed a classically trained dance teacher and replaced her with three of the sweetest lifelong friends you could ever ask for your daughter to have. Some blessings are for a season, you see. Others are for a lifetime. But if you grip any of your blessings in greedy hands, you'll never really know what others you may have missed.

In my friend Susan Miller's book After the Boxes are Unpacked, she encourages people who are on the move to "cherish, not cling," to most things. Sure, she says to cling to God, your Bible, your faith, prayer, and your immediate family with whom you're making the move. But she warns that if you cling to the things in your rearview mirror - the friends and family you're leaving behind, memories, your heritage, your old job, the house you loved or your roots - you'll struggle to move forward into what God has in store for you. You may very well miss out on some of His richest blessings.

Sometimes it helps just to know someone else feels your pain. Friend, I do. It hurts to leave and lose and let go. But, just like you're mama promised when she ripped that bandage off your knee when you were seven, I'm telling you that if you'll open your clenched fists and hold them up to your gracious God...the pain will be fleeting and the joy will soon return.

You can let go because you can trust God.

PS - I read Susan's book After the Boxes are Unpacked during two moves. And if I ever move again, I'll definitely read it again! This is a great resource for those of you packing up and heading off!

What dear thing or person or dream have you struggled with leaving behind during a move?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Moving? - 6 Ways to Make This Move Easier on Your Soul

I'm not moving. Whew! That's a relief.

But I have moved. And I both loved and hated every move. Moving is hard.

I moved from my parents' home to a college dorm.

I moved again from my parents' home...to a sweet little apartment shared with my new husband...900 miles away from my parents!

I moved from an apartment to a spacious and lovely parsonage...back in my home state :)

I moved from that parsonage to another and yet another...once again 900 miles from "home."

I moved down the road to our dream home, designed and built with our blood, sweat and tears.

And then I moved to the desert...1,800 miles away from my parents' green, lush yard!

Each move required hard physical labor. (Well, except for the two moves I managed to experience eight months pregnant so that I didn't have to lug a single box across the room!) But more draining than cleaning and sorting and packing and driving and unloading and unpacking and settling...the emotional stress of moving was always overwhelming.

Whether my husband and I were launching a new life in an idyllic little town or we were cramming two disgruntled kids and two frightened dogs into a van so we could venture into the desert, moving was stressful. Change is stressful. Good or bad, positive or negative, moving is stressful.

Living in a military town, I'm a little more aware than most that summer months are often marked with moving vans and "for sale" signs and garage sales and school registrations for thousands of families each year. This month our church is saying goodbye to several dear families who are moving away. Meanwhile we'll begin seeing unfamiliar and slightly bewildered faces filling our pews as others move into those emptied homes.

So...because I've been there and I've done that and I'm oh so grateful that I'm not loading or moving around boxes this year...I thought I'd offer a few words of encouragement to those of you who are moving. No, I have no tips for packing your belongings. Quite honestly, my husband did most of the dirty work involved in our moves. Instead, I'll be offering you a little moral support and a few kind words.

Saying Goodbye

There are so many possible scenarios for your move. You could be wiping the dust from your feet and getting out of Dodge with a sigh of relief. Or you could be leaving the hometown where you grew up and thought you'd always be. You could be making just one more in a series of moves or you could be making the move of a lifetime. Goodbyes will be different depending on your situation.

Regardless of the situation, you have to say goodbye.

That's right. Even if you're as happy about leaving and moving on as a rabbit loosed from a trap, you need some closure.

Please say goodbye. Believe it or not, and I know some of you don't, there are people who will miss you. Even if you never got to know them well, someone will notice that you have left...and they'll wonder why you didn't say goodbye.

A couple of weeks ago, a young couple pulled me aside after church to tell me that was their last Sunday with us. What?! Like many military families in our church, we had barely met them before it was time for them to leave. Unfortunately my husband wasn't in the pulpit that week because he was home recuperating from surgery. They were sad to miss him, but asked me to tell him how much they had enjoyed his preaching and the fellowship of our church.

The young couple with the precious little girl didn't have to do that. They didn't have to say goodbye. They could have just slipped out quietly, assuming, as many military families do, that no one will miss them. But they would have been wrong. I'll miss them. I imagine others will, too.

I'm glad they said goodbye. Their farewell and parting words honored me. Their "goodbye" acknowledged that I had said "hello" and welcomed them into my world (even if just for a few months). And instead of just slipping out and moving on, their simple acknowledgement gave me the opportunity to look them in the eyes one last time and honor them with my own simple words: "We hate to see you go."

Because we really do. Hate to see you go, that is. You may be the one moving, and you may assume moving is hard only on you. But your leaving affects those of us staying behind, too. It's hard for us to say goodbye, as well. Goodbyes are difficult all around.

Maybe you live in a rural farming community where you haven't seen a moving van in years. But I live in a military town where people are as transient as migrating whales. Still, regardless of how quickly people move in and out...we're people. We're not whales. People say "hello" and "goodbye" and "take care." People take a moment. People pause long enough to shake a hand or hug a neck or exchange email addresses.

Here are just a few suggestions for saying goodbye:
  • Don't assume people know you're moving. They don't. In this Facebook and Instagram age, we sometimes assume everyone knows the goings and comings of our lives. They don't. Tell people where you're going and why and when. In fact, say things like, "Next week will be my final week at Bible study" or "We just have two more weeks to attend church here" or "Our families need to go get hamburgers together soon because we move to Florida on July third." Give people fair warning. They care.
  • Say thank you. I've found that you'll experience a more complete sense of closure if you offer a few sincere "thanks" on the way out the door. Thank your neighbor for being a good one, your child's teacher for a smooth year, your dentist for fitting you in when you had that terrible tooth ache, the waiter at your regular Saturday breakfast spot for keeping your coffee cup full or the teenager down the road for driving through the neigborhood more slowly these past few weeks. Don't just leave; leave a little gratitude behind you.
  • Seriously, tell your church goodbye. At whatever point you connected with a local church, that's where you also need to say your farewells. Obviously if you joined a small group or a choir you'll want to say goodbye to those folks. But even if you never really connected with anything except that third pew from the back in the far left row...well at least say goodbye to the folks in the second and fourth pews from the back, the ones you worshiped alongside week after week. And I bet, from personal experience, that your pastor would appreciate you telling him so long, too. Almost every month my husband has a soldier appear from some far pew in the back of our church to tell him that she or he enjoyed the three or nine or twelve weeks they attended our worship services. Even if my husband never remembers seeing the man or woman before, he's always honored and humbled when the soldier stops to say goodbye on the way out the door for the final time.
Goodbyes can be hard. But they're important. They provide closure. They separate us from the whales! And they show honor and respect to those you're leaving behind. And trust me, people value your parting sentiments more than you think. Are you moving? Say goodbye. To someone.

Are you moving this summer? What stresses you most about moving? What's hard and what's grand about it all? I'd love to know.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Longing for an Invitation?

"No one ever invites me to do anything." I lay in bed last night and said those words to my husband. For probably the 127th time in our marriage. Bless his heart. He takes me seriously every time I pour out that lament, even though he surely knows it isn't true.

People do invite me to do things. I'm having lunch with a dear friend today because she suggested we get together this week. And just moments before she and I closed our deal for lunch, another friend had encouraged me to call her soon so we could put something on the calendar.

Still, when I'm lonely and feeling a little insecure, it seems to me that no one invites me to do anything.

Honestly, I've discovered that even if my days are full of lunches and outings with other people, I can still feel as though I'm missing out on something. Even with a full calendar, my heart can ache with that mysterious longing.

We long to be included in someone else's plans. We love to be invited to come along for the ride. "Come..." There's just something lovely about someone else asking you to join them for something, whether it be a meal, an outing, or a project. The invitation says more than "You're Invited!" It says, "You're worthy, you're delightful, you're wanted."

This morning in my devotional reading Max Lucado reminded me that come is one of God's favorite words, too. I love to hear it...and He loves to say it.

My love calls to me: Arise, my darling. Come away, my beautiful one.
Song of Songs 2:10

"Come, let us discuss this," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool."
Isaiah 1:8

"Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; 
and you without money, come, buy, and eat! 
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost!"
Isaiah 55:1

"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest."
Matthew 11:28

"Come!" He said. And climbing out of the boat,
Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.
Matthew 14:29

Then Jesus said to His disciples, 
"If anyone wants to come with Me,
he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me."
Matthew 16:24

"If you want to be perfect," Jesus said to him, "go,
sell your belongings and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow Me."
Matthew 19:21

He said to them, "Come away by yourselves
to a remote place and rest for a while."
Mark 6:31

Jesus, however, invited them:
"Let the little children come to Me,
and don't stop them, because the kingdom of God
belongs to such as these."
Luke 18:16

When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him,
"Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today
I must stay at your house."
Luke 19:5

"Go call your husband," He told her,
"and come back here."
John 4:16

On the last and most important day of the festival,
Jesus stood up and cried out,
"If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink!"
John 7:37

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice,
"Lazarus, come out!"
John 11:43

God invited Noah to go sailing with Him on unchartered waters. He invited Abraham to journey with Him to an unknown land. He asked Mary to parent His Son with Him. And every day God invites you and me to trust Him as we take His hand and step out in faith as well.

Jesus invited His disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men. He invited the rich young ruler to sell everything and depend on Him alone. He invited the weary to rest in Him, the hungry to eat from Him and the frightened to pray with Him. And every day Jesus invites you and me to find everything we need in Him alone as well.

"Come to Me," He says. "I will give you peace; I will be your rest; I am your hope; I will heal your wounds and diseases; I will make you clean; I will give your life purpose; I will be your refuge. Come."

God invites you because He loves you, because He is committed to you, because He delights in you. He doesn't invite you out of obligation or because He has nothing better to do. He longs for you to come to Him...come with Him.

Do you hear His invitation? If you don't, maybe it's because you haven't opened it. Like a little personally addressed card that is lost in the pile of junk mail sitting on your counter, your Bible waits to be opened. And when you do put everything else aside and open that ancient book you'll find His tender and passionate invitation. It's written on every page. "Come."

Today I encourage you to allow the warmth of that invitation to wrap around you like a sweet embrace. If you, like me, are feeling a little lonely, lift your gaze and look into the eyes of the One who is patiently extending His welcoming hand to you. Allow the longing in His eyes to pull the corners of your mouth into a smile, and say, "Yes."

Friend, Jesus loves you so much. And He longs to draw you close. Will you allow Him to?

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.