This is Real Life…

Today we’re using the #RealLife Filter, because sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. And that’s okay.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself this afternoon. It was 3:00 and not only did I actually know what I was making for dinner (which is a minor miracle), but tomorrow’s dinner was already thawing on the counter! Impressive, I know.

It was a simple dinner with very little prep. After squeezing in a quick walk, I washed my hands and pulled all the ingredients out of the fridge. Tonight’s menu included French dip sandwiches, salad, and roasted brussel sprouts. Sounds delicious, right? (Again, total rock star.)

Well, unfortunately (or fortunately, for my kids) the brussel sprouts spent a little too long in the crisper drawer and ended up in the trash. Not wanting to be outdone, the lettuce I bought last week plopped into the bowl as a giant pile of slime… so I had to toss it out as well.

I was 0 for 2; it was not looking good for the home team.

Thankfully, French dip sandwiches are easy to make and pretty hard to ruin! I heated up the au jus (that’s a fancy word for beef broth) and added the roast beef slices from the deli. Carefully, I transferred the roast beef into the perfectly cut rolls, gently adding a layer of provolone cheese over top. Then I slid them in the oven to broil while I figured out what to serve in place of the slimy veggies.

Since this was supposed to be a simple dinner, I gave myself permission to go the easy route. I dumped some baby carrots on a plate and grabbed the ranch dressing.  I cut the bad spots off some strawberries and dropped them in a bowl. Then I picked out a few grapes left in the bag that weren’t yet rotting, and added them to the table.

[Side note: Am I the only one who buys a bunch of produce only to end up throwing half of it away? Seriously… why do we bother? Anyway…]

As I congratulated myself for creating a healthy rainbow of goodness from what was left of last week’s groceries, I suddenly smelled something burning.

Y’all.

I burned the sandwiches.

Not just a little bit either; like, blacken-the-bread and fill-the-kitchen-with-smoke kind of burned.

Seriously??? Make that 0 for 3…

So much for my simple dinner and rock star mom status! I officially struck out, ruining my ENTIRE menu.

And the truth is, sometimes life is just like that.

Sometimes we plan ahead and have everything all figured out, and it just doesn’t turn out like we expected it to. Things sit too long. Things that seem healthy turn out to be not so healthy after all. Something that started out good ends up decaying from the inside. Other things can’t handle the heat.

Jobs. Friendships. Ministries. Relationships.

Real life happens and we find ourselves suddenly needing to come up with a new plan.

When that transpires, I am tempted to just throw the whole thing out and order a pizza… and occasionally, that’s the best plan! But more often than not, I just need to get creative. I need to give myself permission to stay simple, and then I need to work with what I have.

Cut off the bad spots and save the rest. Pull out what I was saving for another time. Replace the original with something good enough for now. Then put it all on the table and thank the good Lord for providing what I needed…

Manna. Daily Bread. Just enough.

Are you struggling with something that’s not going quite the way you planned? Maybe motherhood is a bit more than you bargained for, or marriage has left you lonelier than you were when you were single. Perhaps you stepped out in faith following God’s leading, only to find yourself suddenly stranded in a wilderness. Maybe your job or your friendships or your faith feel like they are imploding from the inside.

This is real life without a filter. It’s hard and imperfect and unpredictable. And sometimes the best we can do is bring it to Jesus and make the best of what we have to work with, trusting Him— our author and perfecter— to make it enough.

Our Father doesn’t expect perfection from us. He doesn’t mind bruised strawberries and stale hot dog buns; He knew dinner wasn’t going to be perfect before we ever started. He simply wants us to trust Him to provide what we need when we need it, and to believe that it’s enough.

Sweet friend, what you have to offer Him today is enough; burned bread and all.

A Letter to Heaven

Diana with Sarah following a piano recital

**Note: I wrote this three months ago, but wasn’t sure I wanted to share it. Sarah continues to flourish and find joy (and Jesus) once again through her music, so I decided to share in case it encourages someone else. But mostly, just so I have a record of God’s faithfulness to my girl! ❤ You can read a little more about Diana in this blog post about Sneaky Grief.

My friend,

I wish you could have heard the joy in Sarah’s voice when she called us today. She had just finished her piano evaluation, and she was over the moon! She prepared two pieces, but only had to play one (All of Me~ one of the many “beyond her ability” pieces you inspired her to play!). 

This is a really big deal. 

You see, she hasn’t been able to play since we lost you. When you died, something deep inside her died as well. Piano has been her emotional outlet since she was a little girl, but now it only reminds her of you. 

She tried to keep playing; she really did.  And she even kept teaching some of your old students, carrying on your legacy as she inspired them to play. But she stopped playing herself because it hurt too much to miss you. Her heart became deaf to the music of her soul.

Honestly, I was afraid she might never find it again.

I will be forever grateful to the precious teacher God brought into our lives after you passed. She was so patient with Sarah, understanding how her grief was tied to her playing. Sarah gave her very little effort, but this dear woman knew how much effort it required just for her to show up. She helped Sarah complete some goals you you began with her so long ago, enabling her to close that chapter without too much regret. While I feared this teacher was a bookend, I prayed that, instead, she’d be a bridge to something new…

A year and a half later, our girl is at college hundreds of miles from home. We are in these weird COVID days, and social events are limited. So, what does she do when she feels lonely or homesick or just needs a release from all the stress? How does she process all the different emotions swirling around inside her? 

She signs up for a practice room. 

Her fingers are slowly finding their way among the keys again, and her heart is slowly opening itself back up to the music. I can hear it in her voice, even with all these hours and miles between us. She is beginning to feel the music in her soul again. It’s breathing her back to life!

I don’t know where her music will lead her, and honestly, I don’t care. If she never plays outside her own living room, it won’t matter to me, as long as she plays! I just know she needs it~ it is part of her wiring, part of how God uniquely designed her, part of what brings her joy. She is not fully herself when she’s not playing, and much more herself when she is.

I know you would be so proud of her. She is beautiful and hardworking and just as stubborn driven as she’s always been! She has an elegance and professionalism that remind me so much of you. I see you in her sometimes, and it makes me smile. I hope you know how grateful we are for your impact on her life. 

We miss you.

My friend, I wish you could have heard her today. She is opening a new chapter~ letting go of her grief, stepping over her fear, and wading into new waters. It is uncharted territory for her, yet familiar somehow, as though you have prepared the way for her. She is no longer afraid. She is ready.

And I can hear you applauding her from heaven.

31 Day Discipleship Challenge: How to Follow Jesus

My freshman year of college, a close friend gave me a book that had a profound impact on my spiritual life. In His Steps is a Christian fiction novel written in 1896 by Charles Sheldon. It tells the story of a town that is completely transformed when a stranger interrupts a church service one Sunday, questioning whether or not the Christ-followers are actually following Jesus at all. He calmly inquires:

I was wondering… if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said: ‘Follow Me’? The minister said… it is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps, and he said the steps are ‘obedience, faith, love, and imitation.’ But I did not hear him tell you just what he meant that to mean, especially the last step. What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus… What do you mean when you sing, ‘I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way?’ Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves and trying to save lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did?… It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps?

In His Steps, p.8-9

After pondering the stranger’s words, the minister discovers his entire concept of discipleship is in disarray. The next Sunday, he stands before his congregation and issues a challenge: Who will commit for one whole year to do nothing without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” and responding in obedience, regardless of the cost? The goal is not to judge anyone else’s interpretation, but simply to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what Jesus would have you do in your current situation. 

The rest of the book unveils the difference it makes in people’s lives, both individually and collectively, when Christ’s followers live in obedience to the Master instead of by conforming to the world.

I pulled that same, worn copy out earlier this month and read it again. It challenged and inspired me just as much now as when I first read it thirty years ago! Since we are in Lent, a season of surrender and preparation leading up to Easter, and since many of you seem to be intrigued by my journey of allowing God to “transform” me this year, I have decided to issue a 31Day Discipleship Challenge for the month of March. If you desire to truly follow Jesus in a transformational way, this challenge is for you!

As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us, “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.” While I continue to use Romans 12:1-2 as my theme verse for 2021, for the purpose of this challenge, I want to focus on a different verse:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)

Jesus is giving us the formula for discipleship: Deny yourself, Take up your cross, Follow in my steps. 

Obviously, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Jesus’ path led through great suffering and self-sacrifice, so it can be assumed ours will include similar elements. However, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (the Presence of God within us!) to be our guide and strength. We don’t have to try to figure it all out on our own! He promises to help us. We have everything we need!

So here’s the challenge.

For the next 31 days, I challenge you to spend time with the LORD every day (preferably first thing in the morning, but whatever works best for you) and ask Him these questions:

1. DENY YOURSELF

  • In what ways/areas do I need to deny myself?
  • Another way of asking this is what do I want to do or have that I need to surrender to You instead?
  • What are you asking me to give up that will cost me something?
  • What am I afraid to give up?

2. TAKE UP YOUR CROSS

  • What is the “cross” I need to take up?
  • What do I not want to do, but need to?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • How are you calling me to suffer or sacrifice for You?

3. FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS

  • How are you asking/calling me to follow you?
  • Where do I see or sense You at work, and how can I join You?
  • What is one step I can take towards You TODAY?

I encourage you to write down your answers everyday. If you are not a journaling person, you might want to just do bullet points under each topic. At first, simply write down whatever thoughts come to mind and see if there are any patterns that emerge. 

Then spend some time on this, truly listening for the Father’s voice. You might know instantly what next step God is calling you to; perhaps this exercise will give you the courage to move forward in obedience. Or you may not have any idea what you need to surrender or where He wants to take you, and that’s okay!

It is my prayer that praying this Scripture every day will open your eyes to seeing Jesus in a much deeper, more personal way. 

James promises us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8, ESV) If you long for God to transform your life, your heart, your marriage, your finances, etc. into all He designed them to be, draw near to Him! He will meet you where you are and walk with you from there.

Can you imagine the difference it would make in this world if all who claim to follow Jesus actually did? If honoring Christ with our thoughts, words, and actions became more important to us than feeling comfortable, making money, or being accepted? 

Let’s find out together! Who’s in? 

If you’re up for the challenge, please comment below or send me a message. I’d love to walk this journey beside you and have a front row seat to what God is going to do!

Also, if you have a minute, check out these other “Challenge”-related blog posts from some of my friends:

https://www.ashleyolivine.com/the-motherhood-penalty-challenge/

https://www.epigenwellness.com/insomnia-with-anxiety-how-to-overcome-challenge/

Challenging Times: 3 Ways to Endure the Struggle

6 Scripture Verses for Heart Transformation

Have you ever read something in the Bible you may have read before, but suddenly something about it strikes you in a completely different way? You read it again, wondering how you ever could have missed it. 

Because this time it changes you. It makes you different. 

You can never read those verses the same again.

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand found in John 6:1-15 is one of those passages for me.  I was familiar with the story, had read it more than once, and heard it preached on countless times. However, one night at a college Bible study, this one tiny verse stuck right in the middle of the passage jumped out at me for the first time ever. Jesus asks the disciples how they are going to feed all those people, and suddenly Andrew speaks up. In verse 9, he says, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Normally, I jumped ahead to the miracle—how Jesus was able to feed all those people with that tiny amount of food. But this time, for the first time, I noticed the boy

That little boy must have overheard Jesus and his buddies talking about their dilemma. He may have looked around, wondering why the adults weren’t helping, or glanced towards town where the fishermen usually brought their daily catch. All we know, though, is that while the disciples complained and argued about their impossible situation, this little boy had the courage to offer a solution. 

Was he afraid to approach Jesus? Did he wonder if it was enough?

The Bible doesn’t say. It simply tells us that the little boy walked up and offered all he had to Jesus. And Jesus, likely giving him a wink and a secret smile, took that tiny offering and turned it into a miracle. Without the lunch, there would be no miracle. Without the boy, there would be no lunch. 

“Without the lunch, there would be no miracle.

Without the boy, there would be no lunch. “

What was it that made me suddenly notice the boy? Perhaps I noticed because I felt like him—small, unnoticeable, lost in the crowd, with not much to offer, but a great desire to help. I was about to graduate from college. All my plans had changed with a broken engagement (you can read a little more about that here), and I had accepted a job into full-time student ministry, for which I felt unqualified and ill-equipped.

Who was I to lead people to Jesus? What could I offer that was worth anything compared to those around me? I felt like a little kid in a grown-up’s world, and I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer that mattered.

But I loved Jesus. And there was nothing I wouldn’t give Him, nothing I wouldn’t do for Him, no matter how silly or insignificant it seemed.

So I noticed the little boy because he was me.

That little phrase stuck in the middle of the miracle was the Father’s way of whispering to me that my gifts, no matter how small or insignificant, mattered. He cared less about my ability and more about my availability. The boy didn’t make the miracle happen, Jesus did! But He did it with the little boy’s lunch. The offering makes all the difference.

That one little verse transformed the way I think about my gifts. I’ll be honest; even after all these years, what I have to offer still seems small and inconsequential. Even writing this blog post, I catch myself wondering who will want to read it and how it can possibly help anyone. But then I remind myself of the little boy who bravely brought his lunch to Jesus, trusting Him to do something worthwhile with it. I remind myself that the value lies not in the gift but in the giving. So I offer, and then I wait to see what God will do. (If you want to read more on the little boy, check out this blog post from Paul David Tripp: https://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/dont-forget-about-the-boy)

As I lean into the idea of “transformation” this year, I am confident that it begins with Scripture. 

Nothing transforms our hearts like the Word of God. 

It changes the way we think, what we value, how we respond. So I want to share a few verses I am praying that help open my heart to whatever God wants to do in me, in the hope that they will help you, too.

6 Verses for Heart Transformation

Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Ezekial 36:26

 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (NIV)

Psalm 51:10-12

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit[
a] from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (NLT)

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (NLT)

Ephesians 4:22-24

You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before. That old self becomes worse, because people are fooled by the evil things they want to do. 23 But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, 24 to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy. (NCV)

James 1:22-25

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (NIV)

There are plenty more where these came from, and I will share more throughout the coming year, but this is a good place to start. 

Are there verses God is using to shape your heart to be more like Him? I’d love to hear them!

How to Love Your Middle School Boy

Photo Credit: Mandy Khoo

To my middle school boy, LOVE is…

Basketball

Nike shoes

A cool hat

Hours spent gaming

Freshly baked cookies

Fast food (and lots of it)

Sleepovers with friends

An extra hour of TV

Ice cream in the freezer

Whatever his friends own…

Today, I poured out my love for him by…

Helping him with Math

Driving him around

Spending 2 hours at the gym so he could play basketball with his friends

Making a healthy dinner

Washing his favorite sweatshirt

Laughing at his jokes

Reminding him to do his chores

Setting limits and saying no

Making him walk the dog. Twice.

Praying for him

Hugging him goodnight (as he squirmed away from me)…

We don’t always speak the same language,

my boy and I.

Sometimes he gets what he wants

and feels loved,

Sometimes he gets loved

instead of what he wants.

Often he wishes for a different mom,

One who would love him more… or less.

He’s not old enough yet to realize

that real love thinks long-term—

It chooses the eternal over the temporary

It chooses health over happiness

It chooses wisdom over being liked

It chooses God’s ways over the world’s

It chooses growth over popularity

It chooses to make the hard decisions

even when they are misunderstood…

Oh, how I love this boy! 

Maybe one day he will grasp just how much.

**********

I wrote this last week after a rough day with one of my boys. I must have whispered to myself, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed…” a million times that day! He told Jeff, “Mom and I quarreled, but then we worked it out.” (Extra points for a using a vocabulary word!!) I’m not sure that explanation fully captures the extent of our exchange or emotions, but that’s okay. It ended with teary-eyes and I love you’s, and that’s all that really matters. We came out better on the other side.

Parenting is hard, y’all.

H A R D!!!

But these battles for our children’s hearts are SO WORTH IT! Do not give up. Do not quit fighting for them. They need us to love them, even when they don’t know how to receive it. They need us to set boundaries, even when they struggle against them with every ounce of their being. They need us to fight through our hurt feelings and love them anyway. And they need us to keep pointing them to Jesus.

We will get it wrong half the time, and that’s okay. Just don’t give up. Keep loving them. That’s what we’re trying to do around here, however imperfectly; trusting the One who loves them most to fill in the gaps with His grace.

That’s all I know to do.

The Goodness of God

Sometimes the goodness of the Lord overwhelms me.

You and I both know life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we hope. Things don’t always work out the way we expect. Often we find ourselves in situations where God doesn’t seem to be present at all, or if He is, we can’t seem to figure out what in the world He is doing! 

That’s just real life. It’s hard and it’s messy, and it doesn’t always feel good.

But sometimes, on a rare occasion, we find ourselves overwhelmed with God’s goodness. Tonight is one of those moments for me.

After a crazy day of classes, Sarah called me from college, frustrated that her new schedule is going to greatly limit her ability to spend time with her friend group. Shifting to a music major means that she has lessons and rehearsals during the evenings when her friends normally hang out. I encouraged her to try to make some new friends in her music classes, but she wasn’t really in the mood to hear that yet. So after we hung up, I prayed. “Lord, you know what she needs more than I do. I want to ask You to shift her schedule or widen her friend group, but more than that, I want you to draw her heart to You. So whatever that looks like, that’s what I pray…”

Y’all.  

After rehearsal, a few of the music students—including Sarah— went back to one of the corridors and had an impromptu (socially distanced) time of worship together. They lifted their voices in praise and shared how God is working in their lives. Not how they got saved in middle school, or how they got saved again at camp, but how God is shaping them and growing them right now as college students. 

A few minutes ago, she sent me a voice recording of their worship. They weren’t just singing the latest trendy worship songs (which I love), but also songs we taught her a decade ago during “family church” in our basement—songs we sang at our church plant in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Songs that make me close my eyes and lift my hands, taking me back to a different time, a different place. 

Reminding me of God’s faithfulness. His goodness.

So, here I sit, alone in my kitchen, remembering sweet times of worship with precious friends during college. We were so anxious to know what the future held back then, but it never stopped us from grasping onto God in the moment. Oh, how I treasure those memories! Our hearts were so open, our faith so strong, our worship so pure. Those glimpses of glory built the foundations of my faith.

As I listen to my daughter’s beautiful voice raised in worship to the very same King of Kings that I sang to all those years ago, my heart overflows with gratitude. What more could I ask for? What better gift for a momma’s heart than to know her child is walking in the truth? 

Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  I am not naïve enough to think that this moment determines her relationship with God forever or that nothing will shake her. There will be more bad days and plenty of frustrated phone calls. In fact, I am confident the enemy would like nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy her sprouting faith. But I am ready for the fight, and so is she. The devil cannot stand where God is being worshiped. 

So tonight, I will sing of the goodness of God.

4 Tools for Transforming Your Life in the New Year

Ah, the sound of silence. 

Our family just finished a much-needed transformation of our basement. Several months ago during a major downpour, water somehow seeped inside, ruining the carpet in Jeff’s office and causing minor water damage around the baseboards. 

While it was inconvenient, it wasn’t devastating. But it was enough of a disruption that it gave us an opportunity to make a change we’ve been talking about for awhile. Instead of just fixing his office, we ripped up all the carpet and had LVT wood flooring installed. 

Then last week, we had painters come in. Our basement walls were magnificent shades of (wait for it!) burnt orange, navy blue, and forest green, complimented by a lovely greenish-gold color on the cabinets.

 I know, I know… it really was too breathtaking for words. As much as we loved hated to see it go, it was definitely time!

A week (and several texts to my design-gifted friend) later, our basement looks like a totally different space! New flooring and a few coats of paint have totally transformed it into a beautiful haven. Jeff’s office looks clean and professional, clear of all the clutter and ready for him to work. All we need now are a few rugs and pillows, and the basement transformation will be complete!

Something about the New Year causes many of us to consider making changes. We all have things we’d like to transform— our bodies, our time, our closets. New beginnings seem like a good time to let go of the old and welcome the new. That’s why resolutions and challenges are so trendy during this time of year!

One way that people create focus for their changes in the New Year is to choose a “Word of the Year.” 

I did not initially jump into this trend; however, last year a word kind of chose me (you can read about that here). Having a specific direction in which to focus my heart and mind throughout 2020 was so helpful to me that I began praying in early December for a new word to guide me through 2021. 

There are so many good words out there: 

  • Encourage
  • Brave
  • Abundance
  • Grateful
  • Hope
  • Joy
  • Dream
  • Kindness
  • Persevere

(I could go on, and I’m sure there are plenty of words you could add to the list, too.)

So imagine my surprise when the word God gave me was…

TRANSFORM.

Wait, what??

Transform? 

How do you even use that as a “word”? It sounds like… I don’t know… work! Can’t I have a FUN word? Sheesh.

It first surfaced through a “Word of the Year” quiz, which I took primarily because I was curious about the questions it would ask. When my word came up as “transform,” I’ll be honest—I laughed and ignored it. But then, a few minutes later I was listening to a sermon by a good friend that just happened to be all about transformation. He preached on Romans 12:1-2 and the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us by renewing the way we think. 

Y’all, when I hear something more than once, I pay attention. 

When the word popped up several more times over the next few days, I knew the Lord was speaking.

So although my heart was initially resistant, I decided to EMBRACE (my 2020 word) this idea of transformation and began praying about how God might want to transform me in 2021.

The verses my friend preached on, Romans 12:1-2, have been some of my favorite verses since high school: 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (NIV)

I am using these verses in conjunction with my “word” to help guide me in the areas God may want to transform this year.

Y’all know I love Jesus. I have been a Jesus girl for over three decades now. There is not a single day I don’t wake up asking Him to use me for His glory! And yet… 

I get it wrong so much of the time. I am impatient and distracted and selfish. I have so many good intentions, but not enough follow through. I can tell you all the right things to do regarding your kids and your marriage and your family, but I rarely do them myself. 

In just two weeks of focusing on these verses, I have been convicted by how much of my life “conforms to the patterns of this world.” The way I often prioritize my kids over my marriage. The way I spend my time and money. The way I wrestle with God’s authority in my life, somehow thinking my way will be better. (Newsflash: it’s not!)

It is so tempting to measure our faithfulness by comparing ourselves to others. But God never asks us to be better than anyone else. He asks us to give ourselves to Him, to willingly sacrifice anything that might hinder our obedience. He asks us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. If we are willing to allow Him to change the way we think and align our priorities with His, He promises to transform us from the inside out.

That’s the kind of transformation I’m longing for in 2021.

Image from Raintree Community Church

TOOLS FOR TRANSFORMATION

There are many areas of my life that could stand to be transformed (we’ll talk about those in more detail in another blog post). As I have prayed about all that is involved in the process of transformation, I came up with four tools to use as a guide.

1. REVIEW

The first step in any transformation is to review where you are, where you’ve been, and where you want to go. We live in a results-oriented world, and it is so tempting to just jump on in and start working. But don’t skip this step! There is no use rushing if we don’t know where we are going. So I am making time to evaluate what is working in my life and what isn’t, where I’m strong and where I’m struggling, and where I most need God to do something new in my heart.

2. REMOVE

Most things require a process of removal in order to be transformed. Home transformations usually require de-cluttering, tearing out walls, ripping up old stained carpet, etc.  Healthy Eating Plans require removing foods that are harmful and addicting- sugar, fries, etc. Spiritual transformation requires removing habits and thought patterns that hinder us from following Jesus wholeheartedly. So I am asking God to reveal anything I need to remove in order for Him to transform me into His likeness.

3. RE-ORDER

Some things are transformed by simply rearranging/reordering what they already have. For some reason, this tool makes me think of “transformers,” those toys that start out as cars or airplanes, but then transform into really cool robots just by moving their parts around. The same thing happens in our lives. When we shift the right things into a different place or priority, it can lead to a completely different result. Sometimes I get so caught up in getting rid of old stuff or trying new stuff that I miss the opportunity to make better use of what I already have. Maybe my health or my prayer life or my marriage are lacking simply because I don’t have them prioritized correctly. A little rearranging can go a long way!

4. RENEW

Some things require rebuilding/renewing: adding something new in order to transform into something better. Fitness plans often involve adding in exercise, weight-lifting, or an element of consistency that wasn’t there previously. Home improvement projects often require adding in fresh colors and new furniture or décor. And in our spiritual lives, it is not enough to get rid of the old, ugly stuff; we must create new habits, new disciplines, and new ways of thinking. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT)

In addition, almost all transformation requires outside intervention: a trainer, a counselor, a health coach, an accountability partner… and in this case, the Holy Spirit. I love that verse 12 uses the phrase be transformed.” That reminds me that, ultimately, God is the One who is doing the work. I don’t have to transform anything!

I simply need to offer myself to Him, continually, and then be obedient.

The rest is up to Jesus. 

Friend, do you have a word for the year or a verse that is directing your focus in 2021? If so, I’d love for you to share it in the comments!

And if not, why don’t you join me in allowing God to TRANSFORM you this year. I’ll be blogging my progress in different areas as I go, so feel free to follow along!

What I Learned to Embrace in 2020

We are two days into the New Year, and I find myself needing to wrap up 2020 somehow. I wish I could put a great big bow on it, but it wasn’t exactly that kind of year. Still, there was a lot of joy and a lot of growth, and I don’t want to accidentally leave those gifts behind.

I have never been one to choose a “word for the year” like so many others do, but last year a word chose me. I don’t even remember how it happened. I just know that as I prayed about whether or not I should consider choosing a word, God began to whisper the same word over and over to my heart. 

Embrace.

He whispered it in other places, too— songs on the radio, conversations with friends, in the pages of my devotional reading. Again and again the word appeared…. Embrace.

Immediately, it resonated with me, likely because I was filled with so much dread for 2020. Our oldest daughter was graduating from high school, and I was dreading all the “lasts”: her last show, her last prom, her graduation. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine driving her six and a half hours away to college and leaving her there without us! 

But God was telling me to EMBRACE those things, to soak them in and find joy instead of dread. 

So I learned to EMBRACE THE MOMENTS.

I prayed for time to slow down (and, boy, did it!). When the quarantine began, we were suddenly all home together, and I was prepared to embrace every moment. We baked cookies and made scones and watched movies together. We went on family hikes and made more cookies. We created videos and completed schoolwork and yes, we made more cookies. And we ate them. All. 

When Sarah’s Senior girls trip to Texas was cancelled, we went to the beach and swam with dolphins instead. When she missed our family Disney trip due to a Covid exposure, we snuck back down to the Mouse House for a couple days after Thanksgiving (yay for annual passes!). When yet another direct exposure ruined our Christmas day plans, we waved sadly to the grandparents and then embraced the moment, choosing to make a fun memory instead (it had something to do with chinese food and a crispy duck, but that’s a story for another day!).

And when Jeff and I dropped her off at college and I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, I embraced all the things I was grateful for— that she was still able to be on campus with Covid, that she was making new friends and thriving, that she missed her crazy family after all…

So I am grateful that God prepared me to embrace each of those moments. However, my word ended up applying to so much more than just Sarah! The Lord had many other lessons for me to EMBRACE.

When the world shut down, life changed drastically in our home. We went from everyone going in different directions every evening to having dinner (and lunch… and breakfast… and dessert!) together at home every day. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months.

I learned to EMBRACE REST.

There were so many projects I could have done around the house. There were closets and cabinets and a basement full of stuff calling my name. But my soul needed something different— rest

And so, contrary to my normal nature, I embraced it. I left the clutter where it was and curled up in a chair with a book. I snuggled on the couch with the kids and watched movies. I laced up my sneakers and took long walks. And I spent extended time talking and listening to my Father

The strangest thing happened, y’all— my soul began to breathe. It was as if I had been on a ventilator for a very long time, maybe years, and was suddenly beginning to breathe on my own again. It was shallow at first; uneven, gasping, gulps of air followed by periods of holding my breath; but eventually, as I embraced my new normal, it began to settle into a more consistent rhythm. 

I also learned to EMBRACE WRITING.

I have always found clarity through writing my thoughts. Stacks and stacks of prayer journals line my bookshelves. There are even a few (hilarious!) middle school “diaries” thrown in the mix. I have written hundreds of letters to friends over the years, and I have a folder of (mostly embarrassing) poetry hidden in my closet that will hopefully never be read by other humans! 

But around Thanksgiving last year, God began to stir in my heart the urge to write more consistently… and to share my words.

There is something extremely vulnerable about sharing my words with others. I want them to be real, not contrived or impersonal. I want them to touch people, to inspire and encourage and help those who read them. And if I’m honest, I want people to like them (stupid pride). But mostly, I want them to draw people’s hearts to Jesus, just as He draws my own heart to Him. 

And I don’t often know how to do that. 

But suddenly I had nothing else to do except EMBRACE what God was calling me to do. So I wrote about a lot of random things, praying God would use them. I published things faithfully on my blog, even though I had no idea if anyone was reading it. I joined hope*writers and began to learn about the discipline of writing, the craft of storytelling, and the machine that is involved if one ever hopes to publish: building a brand, a platform, a social media following, an email list, etc. 

It still overwhelms me! But through the process…

I have learned to EMBRACE GROWTH. 

I have tried new things and failed. I have written pieces and cringed after I published them. With the help of some friends, I designed a totally new website— that I still haven’t launched. I even submitted two articles for publication, both of which were rejected. But I did it! 

(And I was actually just featured as a guest blogger on a fellow hope*writer’s blog, so that’s fun! You can read that article here.

Overall, I have learned so much. I have even been able to share some of it with others, and it is all a result of embracing something new, of not being afraid to try.

Above all else, I have EMBRACED JESUS.

This year has given me the gift of time and space to just be with Jesus. I have had the freedom to study the Word; to read deep, reflective books; to pour out my heart to my Father; and to sit at His feet and listen. He has convicted and encouraged me, and faithfully been present. I have asked Him for answers and direction, and He has repeatedly reminded me to open my hands and trust Him. So I embrace His goodness, his faithfulness, His love; and I place myself in His hands, like clay in the hands of the Potter. Have your way with me, Lord!

Looking back, it’s funny to think of 2020 as a year to be embraced. Yet, that is exactly what God asked me to do, and I am so grateful. Think of all I would have missed out on if I had stayed focused on what I was losing and if the world had not shut down! 

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” —Romans 8:28 (NLT)

God has given me a new word for 2021 (I’ll share it here soon!), but I intend to continue embracing whatever He places before me, and I pray you will as well! 

I Need a Sign

The weather outside is gray and dreary, reflecting my soul. I am trying to get in the Christmas spirit… we are celebrating the greatest Gift ever given, after all! And You are my greatest gift, Jesus. Nothing in my life would mean anything without You. So I truly am grateful.

I just don’t feel like celebrating.

I don’t want any more stuff– I don’t want to buy it and I don’t want to receive it. I don’t want to eat the cookies I’m baking. I don’t want to buy an extension cord for the front porch decorations. And I’m tired of watching the same old movies for the hundredth time!

Everything just feels so… ordinary this year.

No magic. No wonder. No anticipation.

Change my heart, Lord!

I am like the shepherds of long ago, out in the fields, just going about their business. I’m doing what I always do, trapped in the rut of ordinary life. As the darkness of night settles in, everything looks the same as it always does. No angels. No star.

But wait… A star?

The star!

God, how did You know? Of all the years, how did You know we would need the reminder this year? 

A visible symbol declaring Your Presence with us; a light intended to draw our eyes and hearts to You. In 2020, the week of Christmas…

The Bethlehem Star.

If ever we needed something to lead us to You, Jesus, it is now!

Our world needs Your peace.

Our nation needs Your peace.

Our communities need Your peace.

Our families need Your peace.

I need Your peace.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

– Matthew 2:10-11

Lord, whether I am caught in a cycle of busyness or muddling through the mundane, may I pause and lift my eyes tonight in search of something more.

May the star in the sky, the sign You have given (again), usher into my heart the joy and wonder I have been missing.

May it lead me into Your Presence, so I may bow down and worship You.

May I open my heart, my hands, my treasures, and lay them at Your feet. May all that I am and all that I have be used for Your glory.

“O Come, let us adore Him 

O Come, let us adore Him

O Come, let us adore Him,

Christ, the Lord!”

(-O Come, All Ye Faithful, John Francis Wade)

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Sweet friends, may you find wonder and joy in the coming of the Christ child this Christmas!