31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Your Teens & College Students: Week 1

Hey Friends,

I am SUPER excited about partnering with you this month as we pray Scripture over our college students and teens! As mentioned in my previous post, these are not “perfect verses” or perfect prayers. They are simply a place to start! (You can read more about how I got the idea for 31 Days of praying Scripture over teens here!)

I encourage you to read the daily Scripture before you pray. I have done my best to keep the meaning of the verses in their intended context (we never want to pray Scripture for our own benefit in a way it wasn’t intended). Feel free to use the prayers I have written or pray your own- there is nothing magic or special about these prayers! And if these don’t resonate for your child in their given circumstance, hopefully it will spur you on to find some verses that do.

(Note: I selected these verses and wrote these prayers for young adults who are already walking with Jesus. If you are praying for a teen or young adult who is struggling with their faith or salvation, please reach out and I can give you some different verses to pray over them!)

There is power in prayer, but there is even more power in the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” As we pray the Word of God over the young adults and children in our lives, I believe that God will be working in ways we may not see here on earth, but that will impact His kingdom eternally. May it be so.

I also encourage you to pull out a photo of the college student or teen (or in my case, both!) who you are praying for and keep it with your Bible this month. As you pray, imagine the Lord placing a shield of faith around them, protecting them from the attacks of the enemy, so that these seeds of truth may be planted firmly in their hearts and minds without being stolen away.

Here’s a photo of our girls, just for fun:

I have several other students I will be praying for as well. Mamas, you know who you are- I’m covering your kids with you!

Now, onto the fun part…

Day 1:  Philippians 3:13b-14

Father, as ______________________ begins a new school year, please help them forget what is behind and press on toward what is ahead. Let them step into this new adventure unhindered by the past, filled with hope for the days to come. May they press on towards the goal of knowing You, for which You have called them heavenward; may their relationship with You, both now and forever, be the prize they seek to gain. 

Day 2: Hebrews 10:35-11:1

Father, I pray you will fill ___________________ with confidence in Your Truth. Help them persevere when they face trials, trusting that You will honor their faithfulness as they do Your will. Help them not shrink back when they face doubts or opposition, but give them faith to believe in You. May they be sure of the hope they find in You and certainthat You are present and working, even when they can’t see or feel You. Open the eyes of their heart to know You are there.

Day 3: Psalm 1:1-3

Father, may ____________________ be blessed as they walk daily with You. May they not keep company with those who delight in doing bad things or who would draw them away from You. Instead, may they delight in meditating on Your Word and in keeping Your ways. May they be like a tree planted near streams of water, so that their faith will not wither under pressure, but instead will yield fruit over time. Lord, as they drink deeply from Your Word, may they prosper in whatever they do for Your glory.

Day 4: Proverbs 3:3-4

Father, I pray You will write Your love and faithfulness on the tablet of _____________’s heart. May they allow these virtues to flow in and through them to the people they encounter each day. As they seek to live out their love for You, may they win good favor in the eyes of those around them and, most importantly, with You.

Day 5: Joshua 1:7-8

Father, please help _____________________ be strong and courageous. As they face new situations and a new environment, may they be careful to obey Your instructions and listen to the Holy Spirit, not turning away from You even a little bit, so that they may be successful as they follow Your path. May they keep Your Word always on their lips; may they meditate on it day and night, so that it will influence their thoughts, choices, and actions. May they prosper and find success through their faithfulness to You.

Day 6: James 1:5

Father, when ___________________ lacks wisdom and is searching for answers, may they not be deceived by the abundance of information and opinions around them. Instead, may they seek the truth from You and from Your Word, knowing that You give generously to all who ask without finding fault. And when they do seek wisdom from You, Lord, may it be given to them along with a heart to apply it.

Day 7: Matthew 5:14-16

Father, help ____________ remember that they are the Light of the world, a reflection of You in a world of darkness. When they are tempted to hide their faith or their true self, give them courage and strength to let You shine through them. May others be drawn to You by the light they see in them.

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And that’s it for week one! Check back in next week for 31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Your Teen & College Student: Week 2!

Also, if you know of someone who might find these verses helpful, would you mind sharing it with them? And I would love to know if you are joining me in this prayer challenge. If so, would you mind giving a shout out in the comments (here or on FB)? Just type, “I’m praying” or the names of those you’re praying for. Thanks!

The Best Way to Prepare for Something New

School starts for us next week.

In two weeks, we will take Sarah and drop her off at college.

As you can imagine, there is a lot of preparation going on in our home right now!

What is the best way to prepare for something new? Do you make lists or make piles? Do you wing it until the last minute? 

I would imagine we all get ready in different ways.

I am a planner, and I have found that if I don’t prepare in advance, I miss things that are important. I might miss buying a Math book or forget to pack underwear. You know, important things.

We all know this school year is a bit different, what with the uncertainty of COVID and all. However, it was going to be different for our family anyway, with our oldest heading off to college! So a few weeks ago, amidst the growing piles of dorm stuff, I decided I needed to prepare.

I learned a long time ago that while my lists are helpful, the best thing I can do to prepare for something big is…

PRAY.

Yep, it’s true! When I forget to pack underwear, I just run to the store and buy more. It might be inconvenient, but it’s not exactly life changing. But when I forget to pray, I feel it. It changes everything.

Prayer makes all the difference.

I knew I wanted to cover Sarah (and her friends) with prayer as she steps out into her new college adventure (whatever that ends up looking like!), so I selected 31 Bible passages to pray over her, one for each day of the month. They are not the “perfect college verses” or even necessarily the most applicable; they are simply a good place to start. And I knew if I didn’t plan for it in advance, I would find myself scrambling to find something every day, or worse- forget altogether.

So I chose some verses, and then went ahead and wrote out some prayers.

If you are anything like me, I tend to pray either very generally for my kids (Lord, let them love You!) or very selfishly (Lord, keep them safe. Lord, don’t let me kill them if they sass me again!). While there is nothing wrong with these prayers- I am a firm believer that God loves for us to come to Him with whatever is on our hearts- I have found that praying God’s Word releases an entirely different kind of power.

Some of these passages are verses I already pray over my kids on a regular basis. Some of them were shared with me by sweet friends (thank you!), and some of them came from my time with the Lord this past month. While I wrote the prayers with college students in mind, they easily apply to all teenagers, and many can be adapted for younger children as well.

I have decided to share them on my blog, thinking they might be helpful for some of you who are walking this life stage along with me. I will post a week’s worth at a time, and it is my prayer that God will use our collective prayers to empower young adults everywhere to claim His truths. May they shine brightly with the love of Christ in a world so desperately in need of Light!  

Please feel free to share these Scriptures with anyone who might find them helpful. And start making a list of verses yourself… then share it with me! It takes a village, friends! 

Check back here tomorrow for the Week One of 31 Days of Praying Scripture over Your Teen & College Student! I am super excited about what the Lord is going to do!

Lord, hear our prayer!

Finding Balance When Life Feels Out of Control

What do you do when life feels out of control?

No, really, I’m curious. What do you do?

I started three different blog posts this week, and none of them felt quite right. There was something else lingering in the periphery of my mind, just out of reach, blocking me from carrying any thoughts to completion. 

I spoke with a friend who mentioned feeling emotionally out of control lately. It was not the first conversation like that I’ve had in recent weeks; the people around me just don’t feel like themselves.

Are you feeling it, too?

Our church’s Student Camp was first delayed, then relocated back to our church campus, and eventually shifted to a virtual event at the last minute. Family vacations have been cancelled or altered. School start dates are being pushed back, sporting events are being cancelled, and college kids across the country are wondering if it’s even worth it to pack.

Life feels uncertain, and there’s nothing we can do to change that.

It got me thinking… how do you respond when life feels out of your control? What do you do when the ordinary living of life gets overwhelming?

Maybe you get emotionally crazy, overreacting and lashing out at the people around you or withdrawing into your shell. Maybe you binge on Netflix shows or stuff your face with chocolate chip cookies (anyone else gained the Covid-19??). Maybe you go on a cleaning frenzy (if so, come on over!) or find other things to hyper-control, like exercise programs or home improvement projects.

Or maybe, like me, you just shut down.

I would never describe myself as lazy. With four kids, I am always busy, and even before kids, I have always been a do-er. I like to be productive, to have something to show for my time. I am fantastic in a crisis; I actually thrive in high-pressure situations! And even on vacation, I choose new adventures over relaxation.

So I’m definitely not lazy.

But I’ve noticed a weird thing about myself. When I find myself in situations I can’t control- a global pandemic, for instance, or a poorly organized project I’m involved in but not in charge of- I tend to shut down. I do what I can for awhile, but at some point, I get overwhelmed and totally check out. 

I do it when my house gets messy (think Hoarders). 

I do it when our schedule gets extra busy.

And apparently, I do it when the world shuts down.

Friends, this is where I have found myself these past several weeks. As we move towards a new, yet not so different season, my curriculum list is long and my to-do list is even longer. 

And I find myself longing to grab a good book and hide in my closet!

So, what do you do when life feels out of control?

And how do you get yourself back on track again?

I tend to think of life as though I am standing in the middle of a see-saw, trying to keep either side from slamming into the ground. In order to keep it balanced, I am constantly making little adjustments. I lean this way and then that way, but not too much- just enough to keep everything in the air. When something happens that pushes one side down, I respond by shifting my weight a little, so that one thing doesn’t overwhelm the rest of my life. 

But sometimes, someone (or something- like COVID) plops in one of the seats, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t regain my balance. For awhile, I jump up and down on the other side, trying to make something happen, but to no avail. Eventually, I give up and sit down… or lose my balance and fall off altogether. Then what? 

That’s where I am now. 

So I have allowed myself a few weeks of resting. I have taken time to catch my breath, to read a few books, to just be lazy. 

But now it’s time to regain my balance!

How do I do that in a world that’s still out of control?

To be honest, I don’t really know. I just know I have to try.

So here’s my plan. I realize it may not work. I may fall off a few more times. I may need to stop again and catch my breath. And I may not actually regain balance until this crazy virus climbs out of the seat and stops making headlines! 

But I have to do something… I have to try.

PRIORITIES: START WITH WHAT’S IMPORTANT

First, I am starting with what’s important. I like to do things that feel purposeful, and unfortunately, urgent things often feel more purposeful than important things. Jumping off the see-saw has given me a chance to evaluate what (and who) is really important in my life. I want to make sure I am investing my time and resources there first. 

For me, that means God first (not necessarily the Church, not serving, not ministry, but my relationship with Jesus and time in His Word). After that comes my marriage and my children, then my health and my writing, and finally, everything else. 

I’ll be honest- all these things are continually fighting for my attention, and thus must be constantly reordered. I am not very good at keeping the main thing the main thing, so this is where I am starting.  And to do that, I need structure. 

STRUCTURE: BRING ORDER TO CHAOS

When I’m not completely shut down, I tend to be very organized. I love spreadsheets and label-makers, and I crave routine. So when things feel out of control, the best thing for me to do is streamline and simplify. 

Right now, I find myself drowning in excess. My kitchen counter is hidden beneath clutter. There are piles of various items scattered around our house, mostly because I’m not quite sure where to put them or how to organize them. My pantry is full of food (and I am grateful!), yet I can’t figure out what to make for dinner. I have so many ideas for blog posts, but nothing that’s ready to post.

It is time to bring some order to my chaos!

How do I do this? Well, my instinct is to make a 14 page to-do list and then feel like a failure when it’s not all accomplished by Monday. But I’m not going for finished, I’m going for BALANCED.

So I will schedule my time better this week. 

  • I will try to go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up on time. 
  • Without all the running around, my God time has been pretty consistent, and I want to keep it that way. 
  • I want to block off some time each week to work on my writing, so I can invest most of my time in Jeff and the kids, rather than being distracted and not doing either well. 
  • I will plan out meals so I’m not stuck at the last minute trying to figure out what’s for dinner. 
  • And I will make an effort to restore order to my home by attacking one pile or space each day.

In order to stay balanced, I am trying to keep this simple. I want to fix everything all at once, but I realize that’s not going to happen, so I am taking “small bites.” Whether I organize a whole room or just a pile, it is progress, and it helps me regain my equilibrium. For me, everything is connected, so bringing order to one area of my life inevitably impacts the others. We can’t discount the minor adjustments; sometimes they make the biggest difference!

You will probably hear more about this in the coming weeks. I need the accountability so I don’t end up back in the closet with a book, surrounded by piles and drowning in laziness! 

But I’d also love to hear how you react when life feels out of control, and what you’re doing to find your balance again. Maybe we can help each other.

Somehow it seems easier to catch your breath when you know you’re not alone.

My June Book Stack

It’s summer.

Long, lazy days hanging out by the pool. Hot afternoons with my toes in the sand. Hours upon hours with no one around and nothing to occupy my time except the book in my hand…

Okay, well it sounded good anyway! 

Yes, it is summer, and while I have spent a few afternoons relaxing in the sunshine and dangling my feet in the water, mostly my days have had more of the same crazy twilight-zone-feel as the previous months. 

Usually my summer book lists are filled with fun, easy reads: dystopian fiction, historical fiction, YA fantasy… and maybe a spiritual book or two. I love spending an hour browsing through shelves in the library, choosing random books and, if I’m lucky, stumbling upon a new Young Adult series I haven’t read yet.

This June, however, my trip to the library consisted of a curbside pick-up of books I reserved on-line; no browsing, no discovering, no surprises. So my book stack feels a little different, too- not as fresh, a bit more serious, much like most of us feel if we’re honest.

So let’s get to it.

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I Am Malala by Malala Ousafazai 

I Am Malala is an autobiography written by a teenage girl about her experiences growing up in Pakistan and her passion for girls to have access to education. Published in 2013, this book has actually been lying around our house for a few years waiting to be read, and I uncovered it while doing a little “pandemic cleaning.” Malala is a normal, delightful teenage girl who happens to also be extremely brave and passionate about education. I enjoyed reading her story, particularly her experiences with the Taliban and her relationship with her father. She seems like the kind of person I would invite over for dinner; only, before long, she’d be beating everyone at board games and asking us to pop some popcorn. Sure, she can drop names as easily as Oprah, but her accomplishments at such a young age speak much more to her character than the people who’ve had the privilege to meet her. This is a great book for American children to read to gain an appreciation for the freedom and privilege of going to school.

When All is Said by Anne Griffin

I saw this fiction novel on someone else’s book list recently, and I was so intrigued by the plot description, I immediately added it to mine. 

“If you had to pick five people to sum up your life, who would they be? If you were to raise a glass to each of them, what would you say? And what would you learn about yourself, when all is said and done?”  (Goodreads, book description) 

This is the story of an old Irish gentleman named Maurice who is sitting at a hotel with five different drinks. With each drink, he offers a toast to a different person who made a difference in his life… and that’s all I’m going to tell you! It was an interesting read, a bit melancholy, but sweet. The character development was fantastic, and I felt like I was overlooking his Irish farm all throughout the story. I was not a fan of the ending, though, so if you don’t like sad endings, you might want to avoid this one. I think maybe I would like to write a book similar to this myself one day.

One Woman Can Change the World by Ronne Rock

This book was a complete surprise- literally! Around two months ago, I applied to be on a launch team for a fellow Hope*Writer’s new book (which involved pre-ordering a copy) but I never heard anything back. Fast forward a few weeks, and this beautiful book arrived in an Amazon package on my doorstep- I had completely forgotten about it!

Seriously, y’all, I love everything about this book. If you have a heart for missions and love to see God using ordinary people in extraordinary ways, you need to read this. Ronne Rock takes us on an adventure to meet several women she has encountered in different parts of the world. She shares their stories, and along the way, we get to glean from the lessons they have taught her about God’s love, His faithfulness, and His purposes for each of us. This is not a book about “Girl Power”… it is a book about God’s power flowing through the lives of His girls. You will fall in love with these women and their stories, and you will feel empowered and inspired to live with purpose and grace wherever you’ve been planted.

I loved this book so much, I bought an extra copy and used it for a giveaway in my private Facebook Group, The Surrendered Life Community. Let’s hear it for happy surprises!

The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile

If you have heard of the enneagram, you have probably heard of this book. The enneagram is an ancient tool with uncertain and somewhat sketchy origins. It is similar to a personality test, but instead of focusing on behaviors and actions, it is designed around core motivations, longings, and “deadly sins” (emotions that hinder our relationship with God and keep us from being our healthiest selves).  

Cron and Stabile do a good job of explaining the overall concepts and exploring the deeper meanings of each number from a Christian perspective. The chapters give detailed descriptions for each type, with the goal of helping us better understand ourselves and those around us, as well as how we relate to God and what hinders our spiritual growth. 

With my background in Psychology, I find the enneagram fascinating and helpful. It is not magical or concrete or infallible- it is simply a tool, which like any tool, can be misused or can be useful for helping us become all God intends us to be, particularly in how we relate to Him and others. It has already helped me better understand some things about myself, my hubby, and our children. It’s definitely worth a read! 

If you enjoy it, I also recommend Annie Down’s podcast, That Sounds Fun! She has some terrific interviews that have really helped put skin on some of these more abstract concepts for me.

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

A Christian classic. I have wanted to read this book for a long time, but find I sometimes shy away from more theological books. I never went to seminary, though I considered it for a few years. However, all my spiritual leaders and many of my close friends were seminary trained, so I feel like I pretty much got the education, just without the extra debt! 

In any case, this book has been recommended to me more times over the years than I can count. Jeff happened to pull it out a few weeks ago as a resource for the college ministry we lead, so I quickly snatched it up and decided it was now or never. I’m so glad I did!

This book covers all the basic Disciplines of spiritual growth (meditation, prayer, fasting, Bible study, etc) plus several others that I was not as familiar with, or had never really thought of as spiritual disciplines, such as simplicity. I think I copied half this book into my prayer journal, and there are a few chapters I need to go back and read several times so I can fully grasp them. If you want to go back to the basics but in a much deeper, more authentic way than ever before, this book is definitely worth your time!

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So that’s what I was reading last month! Have you read any of these books? What’s in your beach bag or sitting on your nightstand?

I’m always looking for recommendations!

Listening to the Right Voice: Hearing the Quiet Whisper in a Noisy World

Have you ever had so many voices competing for your attention that it was hard to even think straight, let alone know what to do? How do we learn to listen to the right voice?

I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I played soccer when I was growing up. I started when I was 4 and played all the way through my second year of college. I played on rec teams, select teams, boys teams, and championship teams. For a long time, soccer wasn’t just what I did; it was who I was.

One of my favorite things about being a mom has been coaching our kids’ soccer teams, especially the boys. They are both really good players, but since Eli is older, he tends to dominate on the field.  He is extremely competitive, but he is also a pleaser- he doesn’t want to let anyone down. 

I noticed during one game he kept hesitating and looking over at me whenever he got the ball. When I asked him about it at half time, he said everyone was telling him what to do and there were so many voices that he didn’t know who to listen to. “My teammates all want me to pass it to them, you’re telling me to give and go, and dad’s telling me to score. I’m so confused, Mom! I don’t know what to do!” 

I looked my boy in the eye and reminded him that when he was on that field, I was his coach, so my voice was the only one that mattered. Mine was the voice of authority. 

The second half was completely different! He was totally focused on the game, and he did whatever I instructed. All he needed was a little reminder of whose voice to listen to, and then he had no problem hearing me and knowing what to do. 

Now, fast-forward a month or two, to basketball season. I get pretty into sports, so I’m not really one of those moms who sit quietly in the stands and smile at their kid. No, I’m pretty loud (my girls might even call me obnoxious, but whatever). 

I noticed again that Eli kept glancing over at me. This time when I asked him about it, he said he was confused because I was telling him to do different things than what his coach was telling him, and he wasn’t sure which voice to listen to.  

Oops. 

Hanging my head in shame, I told him to listen to his coach- the voice of authority on the court- and I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the game.

It was a good reminder to me of the power of my voice and how I need to be mindful of when and how to use it wisely.  

And it was a good reminder to Eli to listen to the right voice.

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A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk to the College group at our church about the book of Esther, and I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well. I know, I know, most of you guys out there are already tuning me out, thinking it’s totally a chick-flick thing, but I want you to hang with me!

There is so much in the book of Esther we could focus on, like how God raises up people “for such a time as this” or how God is always at work, even when we don’t see Him. But as I read through it in light of our current circumstances, I couldn’t help but notice all the different “voices” clamoring for attention. 

Friends, I have to be honest… there are so many voices and so much noise all around me these days that I find myself hesitating like Eli, not sure which voice to listen to. Enter Esther. As we walk through Esther’s story together, notice which voice each person chooses to listen to and how that decision makes all the difference. 

THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING TO THE RIGHT VOICE

The story of Esther begins with King Xerxes, the King of Persia, having a banquet for the people of Susa, while his queen held a banquet for the women. At the end of the week, King Xerxes commanded his servants to bring Queen Vashti to him so he could “display her beauty” (ie, show her off) to the people. For whatever reason, she refused to come, and the King got super mad (after 7 days of partying, you can imagine he was probably not thinking very clearly)!

1. King Xerxes listened to the voices that resonated with his feelings  (Esther 1:13-21

As was customary, the king sought advice from the “experts in matters of law and justice… the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king.”  He asks them, “According to the law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” 

If you notice, their response does not answer his question. If there was anything illegal about what the queen did, they do not bring it up… instead, they appeal to the current culture, the king’s pride, and his emotions.  Verse 21 says, “The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed.” 

King Xerxes was a man driven by passion, and this passion often blinded him to truth. As a result, he often listened to the wrong voices, ones who manipulated his emotions for their own benefit and purposes.

This makes me think of Pontius Pilate standing before a crowd of Jews, offering them the choice of who to set free- Jesus, the Teacher and Healer, or Barabbas, the worst of criminals. Many in the crowd had been shouting Hosanna and honoring Jesus just days before, but now were so quickly and easily swayed by the emotion of the mob. 

How often do we get carried away by the voices around us, the ones appealing to our emotions? 

2. Esther listened to voices of wisdom

So the king dethrones Queen Vashti and has all the beautiful girls in the kingdom brought before him for a giant beauty pageant so he could choose a new queen. (Umm, shallow much??) Our girl, Esther, finds herself in this group and quickly wins the favor of the man in charge. He gives her special treatment, singling her out as a good choice for the king. 

In verses 10, 12-13, and 15 we learn Esther was in the habit of seeking out and obeying wise counsel.

  • She trusted Mordecai to know the cultural and political climate and listened when he advised her to keep her nationality quiet. 
  • She trusted Hegai to know what the king liked and didn’t like, so she asked for only what he suggested. 
  • We see her more than once seeking advice- not from the other girls, not from all the guards, not even based on her own opinion- but from those who had actual knowledge and experience with the situations she was facing. 

I can’t tell you how imperative this is in today’s social media culture. 

I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Lucretia Berry of brownicity.com. She emphasized that one negative aspect of social media is how it elevates everybody’s voices and makes them equal, which causes the voices of wisdom to be drowned out. If everyone is an expert, how do you know who to believe? The reality is, not everyone is an expert and not every voice needs to be heard on every subject. Instead, Dr. Berry, who is an educator with extensive research in issues of race, said she often avoids speaking on social media, but instead shares her voice quietly with those who have a heart to listen and learn. 

If everyone is an expert, how do you know who to believe? The reality is, not everyone is an expert and not every voice needs to be heard on every subject.

This reminds me of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He has just defeated the prophets of Baal and is now running for his life from Jezebel, who is determined to kill him. After being on the run for 40 days, he spends the night in a cave and then basically tells God he is tired of not hearing Him. “God, I am doing everything right! I stood up for you, I’ve risked my life, I’ve been hiding out for over a month… WHERE ARE YOU???”  God tells him to go stand out on the mountain and wait for the voice of the Lord. 

  • A great and powerful wind tore past, but God was not in the wind
  • An earthquake rocked the ground, but God was not in the earthquake
  • Next came a fire, but God was not in the fire
  • Finally, after the fire came a gentle whisper…

GOD WAS IN THE WHISPER.

In my experience, the voices of wisdom are often the quietest. Truth doesn’t feel the need to shout or make a spectacle or play on your emotions. Sometimes they are bold, yes, but often they are quiet. Esther took the time to step away from all the other voices and really listen for the quiet voices of wisdom. 

How often do we step away from the noise and really listen for the quiet voices of wisdom?

3.  Haman and King Xerxes listened to the voices of Pride & Power

So, the King makes Esther his queen, not because of the content of her character, but because she is super hot (well, it’s true; read your Bible). And he also makes another guy, Haman, his next in command. Haman is feeling all high and mighty because of his new position, but then gets all upset because this Jewish guy, Mordecai, refuses to bow down to him. So, rather than just punish Mordecai, Haman listens to the voice of pride and devises a plan to exert his power over ALL the Jews in the kingdom. That will show Mordecai who’s in charge!

It turns out the king is easily deceived when Haman appeals to his sense of pride. He twists the truth just enough that King Xerxes doesn’t notice and believes him without question. Without realizing what he’s doing, he, too, uses his power to preserve his pride because he listens to the wrong voice. 

How often are we deceived by voices that appeal to our pride or sense of power?

Be aware- this can look different than we think. 

Sometimes it looks like preserving our heritage. Sometimes it looks like defending the weak. Sometimes it looks like standing up against evil, when really it’s just making us feel good about ourselves. Sometimes it’s not standing up against evil because we are afraid to lose our power or position. 

In Ronne Rock’s book, One Woman Can Change the World, she talks about God being the God of the “ampersand.” (I had to look it up… it means the ‘&’ sign. Who knew??) So often we like to put God in a box, stating He is for this and against that; He is this thing, but not that thing. And while that is true in certain cases, more often the Bible reveals He is “both, and…” 

  • He is justice AND mercy. 
  • He is sacrifice AND abundance. 
  • He accepts us as we are AND asks us to change
  • He is our Judge AND our Defender
  • He has compassion AND allows consequences

There are times God has led me to respond with mercy and similar times when He has required me to discipline justly. In one circumstance He may ask me to speak up, while other times He tells me to remain silent. In Exodus 17, God tells Moses to strike a rock with his staff to bring forth water, and then in Numbers 20, He tells him to simply speak to the rock this time. Moses’ determination to do it his own way results in him not getting to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  

There is no easy answer, friends. The voice of pride and power are often convincing… it requires asking the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and listening for the quiet whisper of God in reply.

4. Esther & Mordecai listen to the Voice of God

When Mordecai finds out about Haman’s decree to kill all the Jews across the entire nation, he mourns the news and sends a message to Esther, urging her to defend their cause to the king. Esther, feeling caught in the middle, reminds him that approaching the king without being requested is likely to end in her certain death, especially since he has not sent for her in 30 days. 

Mordecai’s response (Esther 4:13-14) reveals a Higher perspective, a clue that he was listening to a Kingdom voice. Though he is used to advising Esther, he does not give her a plan this time; he simply gives her a perspective

Basically he says, “God promised our Fathers a long time ago that we are His children and He will not abandon us. He will find a way to save us, one way or another. But Esther, perhaps one of those ways is YOU. Who knows? What if God orchestrated all these things in your life for exactly this moment, so He could accomplish His plan through YOU?”

Esther’s reply also reveals what voice she is listening to:

  • She surrenders her own will
  • She fasts and prays for 3 days (and asks her community to seek God as well)
  • She serves the king AND Haman
  • She serves him AGAIN before petitioning… waiting on God’s timing, His wisdom for her words, etc.

Do those words sound familiar? Surrender. Pray. Serve. Wait.

(It sounds a lot like Jesus to me.)

Remember, God comes in the whisper.

Haman had a plan, but He didn’t plan on God. Esther didn’t have a plan, but she chose to listen to God and walk in obedience. The result is a story of God delivering the people of Israel through the faithfulness of two ordinary people seeking HIS voice in extraordinary circumstances.

Did you know that the word “GOD” does not actually appear at all in the book of Esther? And yet, maybe that’s the point. 

When there are too many voices shouting all around us, or when God seems to be absent from our circumstances, it is THEN that we most need to listen for His voice. He is still working, even when we don’t see it. He is still present, even when we can’t feel it. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the noise of everything going on in our world, step away from all the voices. If you are feeling swayed by emotion or enticed by power or protective due to pride, turn off the voices, and get alone with Jesus. 

He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

He is our Coach, our Authority, our Expert- 

His voice is the only one that matters.

And He comes in the whisper.

13 Ways to Help Kids Unplug from Electronics and Plug into Life

I’m sure no one else is having this problem, but it seems like every time I turn around, my kids are on electronics. 

EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I. TURN. AROUND.

One minute they are eating breakfast, the next minute… electronics.

One minute they are doing their chores, the next minute… electronics.

One minute they are playing outside, the next minute… yeah, you guessed it.

Electronics.

I am blaming it on the pandemic! When this thing started FOUR long months ago, we had no idea our not-really-school-but-still-kind-of-school year would eventually fade into our not-really-summer-but-still-kind-of-summer months, leaving us stuck in this weird in-between place.

Only with even less structure to our days.  

What’s a parent to do?

I mean, don’t these kids know that when we go to their annual check-up the doctor is going to ask me how much time they spend on electronics? Umm… is there an option for EVERY SECOND OF EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY???

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad. 

(but if I’m honest, it really is)

Friends, it’s time for an intervention!

A little bit of electronic time is fine and can even be beneficial! But seriously, in our house, we have used up every ounce of “a little bit” before breakfast…

So, I am obviously not really writing this post for you, I am writing it for me. My guess is there may be others of you out there struggling with this same problem; but if not, I clearly need your help! So feel free to add suggestions in the comments or message me with ALL THE THINGS to help me be a better mom! 

In the meantime, here are 13 ways I’ve come up with for helping my kids unplug from electronics and plug back into life!

13 Ways to Help Kids Unplug from Electronics and Plug into Life:

  1. Chores
  2. Bible Time
  3. Reading Time
  4. Exercise/physical activity
  5. Board Games
  6. Hobbies (music, photography, art, movie-making)
  7. Outside play (basketball, skateboarding, bikes, pool)
  8. Creative Time (drawing, painting, crafting, Legos, etc)
  9. Cleaning/De-cluttering
  10. Cooking
  11. Scavenger Hunts
  12. Serving others
  13. Local Adventures (ice cream shops, hikes, parks, tourist attractions)

*Obviously how you apply these things will vary depending on the age of your kids, among other things. Bible Time could be individual “Quiet times” in their room, reading a Bible story together, learning about missionaries, or memorizing a chapter of Scripture in a month as a family (or some combination of these options). Exercise might be riding bikes in the neighborhood, a pick up basketball game with neighbors, a video workout on Netflix, swimming, trampoline, etc. Cooking could involve your teens making dinner for the family or your little ones making cookies with mom or an older sibling. You get the point.

And there’s one more thing I feel like I should add, mainly because God has made it very clear to me that this is key: 

Changing my kids’ behavior will be ineffective without also changing my own. 

If I’m honest, I- the mom, the one in charge, the role model and example for my children– spend WAY too much time on electronics myself. 

I find myself filling in the cracks of my to do list with social media. I will pick up my phone to send an important text and put it down 30 minutes later after getting sucked into the Facebook vortex or scrolling through Instagram. I go online to find a recipe and end up following a rabbit trail of various news articles and personality quizzes.

I cannot ask them to get off their phone if I am constantly on mine. 

I know, I know- we all are desperate for connection right now, so I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk to our friends. And many of us are online for work, so we can’t exactly unplug anytime we want. I get it! Since entering the “writing” world, I find myself constantly distracted (not just online, either… sometimes with chores, in a book, and even just in my own thoughts!).

But I also know the Lord is telling me that, while it’s important for me to help my kids unplug from electronics, it’s even more important for me to be extra intentional about how I am spending my time. 

Over the years I’ve learned that when I am purposeful about when and how I’m going to get my “work” done (which may be business-related, or it may be prepping dinner, cleaning the bathroom, or replying to emails, etc.), it enables me to be present for my family the rest of the time.  

Full disclosure- I’ve done a pretty rotten job of this lately.

So, in addition to helping my kids intentionally structure their time and better organizing my own schedule, I am also looking through the list above to see which of these things I need to invest in with them. 

Which ones would be really fun if we did them together? If you’re a mom of littles, you may be asking yourself, “Which of these things are they able to do by themselves or at the table with me while I do something else, and for which ones should they have my focused attention?”

 Then finally, how can I remind myself to stop and be fully present when they want to share their thoughts and creations with me or when they want me to join in the action?

Believe it or not, we only have ONE month of summer left (I am not even going to think about pandemic-schooling yet, so Shhhhhhh!!!). Let’s challenge each other to unplug a little -or a lot, whichever the case may be- from electronics and spend more time truly plugged in to our people.

If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments! I figure after a week or so, I’m going to need some more suggestions…

Embracing Transition: 4 Steps to Making the Most of a Milestone

Last weekend, a “corona-month” later than planned, we celebrated Sarah’s high school graduation. She put on her cap and gown, took a bazillion pics with her friends, listened to some fabulous speeches, and FINALLY received her high school diploma.

With the turning of her tassel, she transitioned into a new part of her journey, ready or not!

It sounds cliché to say we blinked and she grew up, but honestly, that is how it feels…

Graduating from high school is such a milestone. It closes the door on one chapter and ushers open another. All eyes are turned to the future, every step leading forward to whatever comes next! 

Our sweet Sarah cannot think about anything now except college. She is focused on what she needs, who she’ll meet, and what she’ll experience. And she should be! She is embarking on a brave new adventure.

The miles stretch out before her, just waiting to be traveled!

***************

This milestone got me thinking about those mile markers along the interstate. I often think of them as telling me how much farther I have to go, but really their purpose is to remind us of where we are and how far we’ve come. That little number on the side of the road is the sum of all the miles we have travelled so far.

Most of the time, I get caught up trying to use that number to determine how many miles I have left on my journey, but when I do that, I miss the whole point!

I forget to celebrate how far I’ve come. I miss out on the landscape of that particular part of the path. And if I’m not careful, I may even end up overlooking an opportunity to take a better route.

4 Steps to embracing transition

Friend, are you partway along a path, in need of a mile marker to give you perspective? Maybe your path is:

  • A weight-loss journey
  • A new adventure, like college or a new job
  • Parenting small children
  • The pursuit of a dream, like running a marathon or writing a book
  • A long-term career goal
  • Finishing a degree
  • Parenting teenagers towards adulthood

Whatever your journey, here are some steps you can take to help you embrace your transitions and make the most of this moment.

Step 1: Reflect on the past

When you find yourself at a mile marker, take time to pause and reflect on how far you’ve come. Most likely there have been some bumps in the road, maybe even some failures along the way. Don’t be afraid of them! What have you learned from your struggles?  How are you better as a result? Are you more focused, more compassionate, more motivated?

And make sure you celebrate your victories, too! The distance you’ve traveled deserves recognition, regardless of how long it has taken or how many times you got sidetracked. A mile is a mile, no matter how you slice it! Pat yourself on the back for your progress.

Step 2: Embrace the moment

Next, look around. Notice the beauty of where you are- the different scenery, the opportunities for growth, the friends who are travelling this path alongside you. Each of these is a gift, and they are not promised for the entire length of your journey, so embrace them now!

Soak up the encouragement.

Learn what you can.

Try something new.

Make some memories.

Reach out with gratitude.

And above all, embrace this moment!

Sure, you still have a long way to go, but none of us is promised tomorrow, so don’t wish away today. You are at this particular mile marker only for a short time, so enjoy it!

Step 3: Adjust your course

Take assessment of where you’ve been and where you’re going. Make sure you’re still headed in the right direction, and make adjustments if necessary. Perhaps you’ve realized there’s a better way to get where you’re going; maybe you got off track, or your destination has changed along the way. This is the time to change course, to alter your direction, to make sure you’re taking the right path.

Here. Now.

At this mile marker.

Don’t waste anymore time going the wrong way or spinning your wheels. We are only on this earth for a little while… make it count!

Step 4: Move forward in hope

When you find yourself at a mile marker, reflect on your progress, embrace the moment, adjust your course, and then MOVE ON. Life is all about the journey, after all! Don’t get complacent, and don’t give into fear or deceptive voices. 

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.’’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

Live into this truth and move forward with hope and confidence, knowing that you do not journey alone!

This is my advice to Sarah and her friends as they transition into this next stage of life, and it is good advice for the rest of us as well. 

Reflect on the past.

Embrace the moment.

Adjust your course.

And move forward in hope.

My May Book Stack

Friends, the past few weeks have been crazy, to say the least!

There is a lot going on, and it has been difficult to know what to post. Then suddenly I realized I had not yet shared my May book stack with you!

So here it is. 

Monks and Mystics, Volume 2: Chronicles of the Medieval Church 

I bought this series by Mindy and Brandon Withrow many years ago as part of our Church History curriculum when were homeschooling. This is the second book in the series, and it relates the stories of medieval Christians such as Boniface, St. Francis, Thomas Aquinas, and John Wyclif, as well as outlining events like the Crusades, the forming of Universities, and the Councils of the Medieval Church. Since it is written with the intent of making history come alive for older students, I find it is very readable and way less boring than most church history accounts! There were several stories I was not familiar with that were quite encouraging. This is a great book (and series) for anyone wanting to learn about the path of Christianity through the ages or for middle/high schoolers studying Church history.  

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (Gail Honeyman)

This was such a fun book! It reminded me quite a bit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It took me a bit to get into it, but I’m so glad I stuck with it! The character development was terrific, and it was thick with British humor. It covered the subject matter brilliantly, and while I had a pretty good idea where the plot was going to end up, it took a few twist and turns getting there. Overall, it was a beautiful tale of not judging a book by its cover, while addressing delicate issues such as depression, loneliness, and friendship in a unique and charming way. (Trigger warning: If you have suffered abuse, this book may not be for you.)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins)

My oldest daughter, Sarah, made a special trip to the store just to surprise me with it because we are both big fans of The Hunger Games series. (Thanks, Boo!) In this prequel to the original book, Collins takes us back to when President Snow is a teenager, living in the Capitol, struggling to survive after losing both parents in the war. He is chosen to be a mentor in the 10th annual Hunger Games and is assigned- you guessed it- the girl from District 12. Y’all, I loved this book! I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll stop there, but Collins does a great job of weaving in so many elements from the original series, which made it an extremely fun read. The climax at the end felt just a little bit rushed (kind of like the end of Mockingjay, in my opinion), but overall, I definitely recommend it to Hunger Games fans!

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman

This book has been on my list since I joined Hope*Writers a few months ago. The title stems from a poem often quoted by my favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot: “Do the next thing.” Freeman takes it a step further by reminding us that there might be many good choices in front of us, so we need to find the next right thing. While this is a book about making life decisions, I love that it is not a “5 step formula to choosing the right thing” type of book. Instead, each chapter shares a different approach for discerning your next right step. So while they may not all apply to every individual, something will surely apply to everyone! Some of my favorite chapters were Name the Narrative, Look for Arrows, Know what You Want More, Quit something, and Stop Collecting Gurus.

Since the chapters are short, I decided to use it along with my devotional time in the morning, which worked really well. Each chapter ends with a prayer and a “practice” section, which helps the reader apply what they are reading.  There are so many good things I got out of this book, but if I had to pick one quote for how God spoke to me, it would be this one from p. 53:

God often gives a faint vision of things before they ever come to be. It’s not a full form, more of a shadow, not focused or clear… Instead of those black-and-white answers we tend to love so much, what if we began to look for arrows instead?”

Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing

Arrows instead of answers. Yes!! This is a great book to read if you find yourself in a place of transition and need a little help discerning your next right step.

And finally, Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)

I loved this book, too! It was a good month for fiction reading. J This is the story of Kya, a young girl who is abandoned by her mother and older siblings and eventually by her abusive, alcoholic father, left to fend for herself in the North Carolina marsh. It is a coming of age tale; a beautiful story of abandonment, love, trust, betrayal, and friendship. Oh yeah, and then there’s a murder mystery, just for kicks! Seriously, the world building, character development, and storyline of this book are all top-notch, and the writing itself drew me in from the beginning. My favorite scene is when Kya’s friend, Tate, is teaching her how to read: 

“Slowly, she unraveled each word of the sentence: ‘There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.’”

(He goes on to encourage her that now that she can read, she’ll never not be able to read again, to which she answers:)

It ain’t just that.’ She spoke almost in a whisper. ‘I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.’”

Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing, p. 135 (Large print edition)

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but that is such simple and beautiful truth.

I definitely recommend this book. It would make a great read for the beach or pool!

Well, friends, those are the books I read in May! Not a bad one among them. Summer is here, and we all have a little extra daylight, which hopefully will include a little extra time to read, too!

What’s on your nightstand or in your beach bag? I’m always looking for suggestions. Feel free to share in the comments!

Moving Forward

Have you ever felt like your world has suddenly stopped and you’re not sure how to move forward?

It’s a bit overwhelming.

My senior year of college, I went through a difficult break-up (I’m talking about a give-back-the-ring kind of break up). I haven’t thought about it in a long time, but back then it pretty much rocked my world. Not only did I have to navigate the logistics of calling off a wedding, as well as all the feelings that come with the end of a serious relationship, but I also found myself suddenly needing to rethink all my future plans. 

I felt like I was drowning- it was hard for me to focus on anything else.

This was a problem, because life continued all around me. My professors didn’t cancel class just because I was going through a break-up. My broken heart did not excuse me from writing papers and taking tests.  I was still expected to show up, to go to work, to fulfill my obligations. 

Life went on, and I was supposed to go on with it, whether I knew how or not.

So, I woke up the next morning, climbed out of bed, and just did the next thing. I didn’t always do it well, and I cried a lot in between, but I did it. I put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward. 

Step by step.

Over time, moving foward became a little bit easier. I was able to reflect on that relationship and learn from it. I was able to take responsibility for my part in things, and identify ways I needed to grow. I knew what I was looking for and what I needed to avoid. And all the while, I kept moving forward in the other areas of my life as well.

It took a long time before I was able to open myself up to love again. I wanted to, but I was afraid. I was scared of messing things up, of losing a friendship, of losing myself. It was hard, and it was scary. I wasn’t sure how to move forward.

I am so grateful for friends who walked that journey with me. They were so patient with me when I wasn’t sure what I wanted. They encouraged me to take risks and to take my time. They listened as I processed my ping-ponging emotions and spoke wisdom to my wary heart. 

Above all, they loved me well and continually pointed me to Jesus. 

They helped me move forward.

Moving forward didn’t mean I forgot, nor did it mean I didn’t care. It was simply a necessary part of life, so I did it. I didn’t really have a plan; I just figured out my next steps as I went. 

Many of you know this feeling well. Perhaps you have lost a spouse, or parent, or even a child. Maybe you’ve had to let go of a marriage or a dream. Whatever the case, you know what it feels like to hardly be able to breathe, and yet somehow have to find a way to continue moving forward. 

One tiny step at a time.

The past few months, and the last week in particular, have made it difficult for many of us to know how to move forward. 

We don’t want to move on too quickly. 

We don’t want to be insensitive to others.

We don’t want to act like nothing ever happened.

We don’t want to say the wrong thing or not say the right thing.

We want to make a difference, but we’re not sure how.

We find ourselves paralyzed, not sure when or how to move forward.

And yet, life continues on around us. Family and children and work await our attention. For just a little while, the world seemed to hold its breath, but at some point it needs to exhale and start breathing again.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay to move forward. 

You don’t have to forget, and it doesn’t mean you didn’t really care. Your emotions may still be all over the place, or you may be confused about what to do next. It’s okay- in the words of Elisabeth Elliot, “Just do the next thing.” 

The “next thing” looks different for everyone. Some of you may be called to change a diaper while others are called to change the world. 

Whatever you do, do it in love, and it will be a step forward.

The morning after my college break up, I grabbed my Bible from my nightstand. I had been reading through the Psalms, and my Psalm for that day was Psalm 30, which was so timely. This verse in particular instilled in me the strength and hope I needed to move forward:

“Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” -Psalm 30:5

Joy comes in the morning!

I don’t know about you, but it’s time for me to start moving forward.

I don’t have all the answers, or even a well-thought out plan, but that’s okay. I just need to take a step, and I’ll figure the rest out as I go.

Sorting Through the Mess: A Thoughtful Perspective on the Division in America

You know how you feel in December when you pull out the boxes of Christmas decorations and attempt to sort out a million different strands of hopelessly tangled lights? As my husband says, it’s enough to make a Christian want to cuss!

Yeah, that’s how my heart feels right now. 

George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. The Media. Riots. Police officers. Pandemic. Politics. To mask or not to mask. 

So many things twisted together, all tangled up in a great big mess.

I am hesitant to even write about it because I’m not sure I can do justice to such important issues. While I know some of my thoughts may not be popular and I’m okay with that, I desperately want to avoid being misunderstood or causing pain to friends who are fearful or grieving. 

And yet, writing is how I best process my thoughts. I am sharing only in the hopes that it will give voice to some of your own thoughts, too, and help untangle this mess in your heart just a little bit.

My first thought is to recognize it is both possible and acceptable to feel multiple emotions at one time.

The sun can shine while it’s storming. People can laugh while they’re crying. You can respect and admire a friend, yet disagree with their perspective. We can deeply love our children and want them to leave us alone, all at the same time. 

I feel sickened by the video of George Floyd. I am angry at the police officers involved, both the one who killed him and those who stood by watching. I feel compassion for so many friends who fear for the lives of their husbands and sons, simply because they were born with black skin. I also fear for the majority of our law-enforcement who constantly place themselves in danger in order to protect lives, and are now in further personal danger because of the horrible choices of some who share their badge.

I grieve for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and I sympathize with those who are at risk and afraid, as well as those who have lost their jobs and their businesses. At the same time, I recognize the deception and manipulation on display from every side- disguised as protection, of all things- protection of health, of rights, of the vulnerable, of businesses. Sure, there is truth in all of it, but those seeds of truth are being twisted into whatever happens to benefit the “twister” the most. It frustrates and exhausts me. 

As humans, we are not always sure what to do with conflicting emotions. So often we tend to focus on one and ignore the others because it just seems easier that way. 

But I have found that in life, the easier way is rarely the best way.

However, this is our instinct- to focus on one emotion, in ourselves or in those we view as opposing us, because then we are able to react. More than anything, our difficult feelings hate to be contained and cry out for action. It is much easier to projectile vomit our pain and opinions onto others than to process it amidst the quieter, seemingly contradicting voices in our heads. And when we hyper-focus on one emotion, we tend to lose perspective; we lose sight of our friendships, we lose sight of how God is working, and eventually, we lose our hope.

Setting aside the strand of conflicting emotions, I reach into the tangled mess of lights and pull out another thought: how easily we are manipulated by the power of suggestion. 

I recently saw an article which illustrated this perfectly. It was written by a photographer who was showing how easily we are misled by what we see (and I would suggest hear, feel, etc.). The author used a series of side-by-side photos taken of the exact same images from the exact same angles, but using different lenses. It was truly fascinating! In one photo, it was obvious people were standing several feet apart from one another on a sidewalk, but with the other lens, they appeared to be almost touching.  Another photo showed people spread out all across a park, while the same image using the other lens made it look like they were gathered together in a crowd. The dichotomy continued, image after image. The crazy thing was, if you only saw one photo, you would swear it was reality. No one would be able to convince you differently; we trust our senses so completely. 

The power of suggestion is so much stronger than we realize.

I believe Satan is using this tool to divide us now more than ever. Each of us sees things so clearly from our own perspective that there is no room for anyone to give us a different view of the same image. We forget we all view reality through our own specific lens, and that someone else’s lens is not necessarily wrong- it’s just not the whole picture. 

And neither is ours. 

The truth is only found in the absence of lenses, which often rests in the eyes of God alone. Our best hope is to recognize our own lens and compare our differing perspectives with others in hopes of getting a little closer to the truth. 

I will be honest- I am easily led by my emotions.  Those of you who know me now may not believe that, but if you knew me in my high school and college years, this does not surprise you. My instinct is to react on emotion, but having learned this about myself over the years, I try to be intentional about pausing.  Giving myself time to calm down, gather information, and process different perspectives enables me to respond more helpfully to a situation rather than just react on emotion. It gives me time to employ “critical thinking,” which can be defined as follows:

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following:

  • understand the logical connections between ideas
  • identify, construct and evaluate arguments
  • detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
  • solve problems systematically
  • identify the relevance and importance of ideas
  • reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values

Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information. A person with a good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily good at critical thinking. A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what he knows, and he knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself.”

https://philosophy.hku.hk/think/critical/ct.php

Critical thinking looks past the headlines, past our emotions, and past our desire to blame someone and validate our opinion. It seeks the TRUTH, even at our own expense. 

And honestly, that’s not something we value much in America any more.

No, it is easier for us to look at school shootings and decide the problem is, say, too many guns. But if we research it further, we would find that areas with the tightest gun control have some of the most shootings. And while gun laws may certainly be part of the answer, by focusing on that alone we miss so many other pieces of the puzzle, like mental health issues, bullying, family dynamics, and the desensitizing of violent video games.

It is easier to look at the problems in education and blame it all, perhaps, on the curriculum. Obviously, we’ve seen through Common Core (and No Child Left Behind, and standardized testing, and…) that focusing blame on just one area does not fix the problem. Meanwhile, we ignore the lack of resources for teachers, the abundance of paperwork, the impact of home-life on student performance, the rapid integration of non-English speaking students, and discipline and behavior challenges in the classroom. 

It is easy to look at the Coronavirus and decide sheltering in place and mask wearing are the only viable solutions. But doing so ignores the devastating impact of job losses, deaths from other factors due to not seeking medical attention, increases in suicides, rampant child abuse, addiction relapses, and the fact that cloth and surgical masks provide almost zero protection for anyone from air-borne viruses like COVID-19 (bacteria, other germs, yes, but not viruses. If you can breathe through the mask without a filter, you are exhaling and inhaling the virus right through it.) The answer, therefore, is simply not as easy as it seems. By ignoring other factors, we may actually be making the problem worse.

And it is easy to look at various acts of racism and blame policemen or a corrupt justice system or the history of racism in our country. And while all of those may certainly be part of the problem, there are other factors- some very difficult to discuss and address- that greatly affect the issue. I had a black pastor friend tell me years ago that racism in America will never get better until the black community takes responsibility for the ways they contribute to the problem and quit both blaming the “white man” and expecting him to fix everything. Those same words out of my mouth would mean very little, but his sentiment has since been echoed by other other black friends as well (all my age or older). These wise and compassionate leaders have a front row seat and valuable perspectives, but they do not offer easy solutions, so their voices are rarely heard.

Please hear me- this in no way removes responsibility from the people who have committed horrible or foolish crimes. And it does not negate that there are major changes that should be made to various systems in America, particularly in certain areas. 

Instead, I am implying that as long as we ignore our contradicting voices, as long as we are easily persuaded by the power of suggestion, if we continue to react on emotion instead of thinking critically and engaging all aspects of a certain issue, it will be very difficult for us as a society to make any kind of lasting change.

And the enemy loves this. 

Satan loves to distract us and deceive us and divide us. He loves to whisper to us about our rights, about vengeance. He loves to make generalizations and cast blame and stoke anger. And if he can keep us busy fighting each other, he doesn’t have to worry about us fighting him.

But there is One who is greater.

He weeps at the senseless violence and the loss of life. He alone has the right to number our days, and He alone has the right to render vengeance (Romans 12:19). Truth comes not from our leaders or our emotions or the media, but from the Lord. He comforts the broken-hearted and gives wisdom to those who ask. Oh, how we need You, Jesus!

He is the last strand I pull from the tangled mess today

The knots are still there; they are twisted together in too many places and cannot be sorted out all in one day. But when this strand is pulled out and plugged in, it casts Light on all the others and makes the sorting out a bit easier. I wish He brought easy answers, but unfortunately that is not the case.

Instead, He brings His Presence. 

He steps into the chaos of our tangled up issues and conflicting emotions and speaks peace. 

He embraces us in our fear and grief and whispers comfort. 

He sees us in our division and anger and brings hope.

I do not have answers, friends, for all that is happening in our world right now. But I know that the easy way, the obvious way, the emotional way is rarely the best way.

And so I pray… 

“God, grant us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

–Reinhold Niebuhr