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.

Change How You Parent: Fear or Faith?

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself wondering what in the world to do with your child? 

After all, you’ve done your best to raise them right. You prayed for them, taught them manners, and helped them memorize Bible verses. You limited their electronic time and said no when they begged to watch non-age-appropriate TV shows (darn you, Hannah Montana!).

But still, their hearts are captivated by the world… 

And nothing you do can change that.

They want to wear the same clothes their friends are wearing and listen to the same music. They want to play the same video games, watch the same You-tubers, and follow the same “influencers.” Like every adolescent since the beginning of time, they want to be liked and accepted by their peers, even if that means doing things they know are wrong.

If you’re fortunate, they at least struggle with the conflict between these desires and their values. That means deep down they at least want to do the right thing… they want to choose Jesus. But sometimes that struggle can lead to anxiety or loneliness or friend drama. 

What’s a parent to do?

It is really hard to watch our kids walking that line between right and wrong, tip-toeing as close as they can to the dark without actually falling in. Jeff and I have encountered these types of struggles on multiple occasions with our children, so I feel your pain.

Jeff is better about seeing the big picture, but if I’m honest with you, I pretty much tend to freak out. I’m afraid they are going to ruin their life. I’m afraid they are going to walk away from Jesus. I’m afraid they are going to become everything I have invested so much time and energy guarding against!

I’m just plain afraid. And I begin to parent out of fear.

PARENTING OUT OF FEAR

Sure, I call it all kinds of things: 

  • parenting with purpose
  • being intentional
  • maybe even being a little “controlling.” 

But the truth is, it’s fear

Yet, the Bible declares, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  I memorized this verse a long time ago, but God whispered it to my heart a few years ago, and it completely changed the way I parent. Here’s what happened.

image from womanofgod.com

Our daughter, Abby, has always been into the latest trends. When she was two, she would go into the indoor playground at Chick-fil-a and come out a few minutes later modeling other children’s shoes. She would stop complete strangers on the street to comment on their cute outfits. (If you know me, you are asking where in the world she inherited that from… definitely not her momma!) In Kindergarten, her free-writing journal was filled with lyrics from Hannah Montana songs, which she wasn’t even allowed to watch or listen to yet!

Yes, our sweet girl’s heart was drawn by the world from a very early age. 

As she entered the middle school years, the pressure to fit in and be accepted by the “cool kids” increased. She hated being one of the few girls without a phone, and though she still obeyed me, she thought my “modesty” rules were old-fashioned and ridiculous. We clashed often during those days; Abby, with her teenage hormones raging, and me, with my authority being challenged and my fear increasing at every turn. 

My prayer journal is filled with desperate pleas for God to protect her and change her and not let her go astray. I constantly cried to Jeff about the path she was on and where it would lead. I was so afraid (and a little bit dramatic).

Now, understand, our girl was hardly a rebel! But after so many years in youth ministry, I was extra sensitive to the beginning stages of a wandering heart, and while she wasn’t even out of the living room, my mind saw her riding off into the sunset. It sounds ridiculous even as I type it, but it’s true. 

Do you do that, too? Imagine the worst-case scenario right out of the gate?

Anyway, one night as I was praying for Abby, crying out to Him again in all my fear, the Lord spoke to me very clearly. No, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the impression on my heart was so strong, it could only be the Holy Spirit. This is what He said:

“Yes, Abby’s heart is drawn by the world, but whose isn’t? You are focusing on the wrong thing. She has had multiple opportunities to join the cool kids, but when it came down to it, she wasn’t willing to compromise her convictions. She may stumble a little along the way, but she almost always makes the right choice! So quit focusing on what you’re afraid of and focus on ME. The whole world is already fighting against her… she needs YOU to fight for her. Are you going to keep parenting out of FEAR or are you going to start parenting out of FAITH?”

I knew immediately what I had to do. Viewing the situation from God’s perspective completely transformed my mind and changed the way I parent (or at least try to).

So when you find yourself in a situation where you are tempted to parent out of fear, let me encourage you to parent out of faith instead. 

PARENTING OUT OF FAITH

How do we do that? Here are three things that help me:

1. Change how we PRAY for them

Instead of praying out of fear, I pray in faith. I claim God’s promises for her. I remind myself of His plan for her life, of His faithfulness through the generations. I ask Him to give her courage, faith, and boldness. I pray for her to be a Light in a dark generation, that He might use her in mighty ways! I ask Him to surround her with godly adults who love Him and will help shape her into the woman He created her to be—and He has! 

Do I still bring Him my fears when they surface? Absolutely! I need to, for He is the only One who can give me peace. But I’ve learned His power is only released in our lives through prayers of faith, not fear. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Do I still bring Him my fears when they surface? Absolutely! I need to, for He is the only One who can give me peace. But I’ve learned His power is only released in our lives through prayers of faith, not fear.

KELLY CALLEN HEATH

2. Change how we THINK about them

Our thoughts determine our actions. What I’ve learned in parenting, though, is how much my thoughts actually determine my children’s actions! By parenting out of fear, I may actually be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in my child. When we reflect our fears on them, they may internalize them and think that is what we expect of them. Therefore, changing the way we think can actually have a direct effect on how they act!

For me, this meant stopping myself from worrying about where Abby was headed, and instead reminding myself of what God has planned for her life. It meant focusing on the times she got it right more than on the times she didn’t, on her victories more than her failures. I continually thanked God for the times she did the hard thing, reminding myself of His strength and goodness in her life. 

And I began to speak these things out loud to her, which is the next tip.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

3. Change how we SPEAK to them

I cannot emphasize enough the difference it made when I began speaking to Abby in faith instead of out of fear! As I pointed out her courage to hold to her convictions, she began to make those decisions more confidently. I touted character traits I wasn’t yet seeing in her as though she was already displaying them, and before long, she was! 

If you want your daughter to show courage, compassion, and kindness, tell her you love those things about her, and point out ways God can use those traits in her life. If you want your son to have integrity, character, and resourcefulness, make a point of recognizing those qualities in him and mentioning them every chance you get. 

Changing how I spoke to Abby enabled God to transform how she sees herself.  She no longer sees herself through my fear, but as God sees her—as His “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for (her) to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) 

WE GET TO DECIDE…

I am pretty certain that had I continued parenting out of fear, Abby would have continued resisting me and would probably not be the awesome Jesus-girl she is today. That doesn’t mean it would have been my fault—she is still free to make her own choices—but I definitely was not helping the situation. 

And even parenting in faith doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome; there are no magic formulas for producing perfect kids! In fact, even while writing this blog post, the enemy is whispering that just because it helped one kid doesn’t mean it will help the others. 

But I no longer listen to the voice of fear…

Friend, we can parent out of fear of who our children might become, or we can change our perspective and parent in faith of who God desires them to be. 

Both will shape them…

But we get to decide which one!

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS POST, CHECK OUT THESE OTHER BLOG POSTS ON THE RELATED TOPIC OF CHANGE:

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Make the Change: How to Start a Business from Home

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So Much Change

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.

Tuesday Transformation: Home Edition (Knowing Where to Start)

One of my husband’s favorite sayings is, “I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony. I know what to do, I just don’t know where to start!”

That’s how I feel when I look around our home. There is clutter EVERYWHERE—on the kitchen counter, shoved in drawers, overflowing from closets, stacked in the garage—pretty much everywhere. You might not see it if we know you’re coming over, but believe me it’s lurking just beneath the surface. And while I may know what to do, the magnitude of the job overwhelms me. I end up not doing anything because I don’t know where to start.

Now, I feel like I should give you some background info. Y’all have to understand, Jeff and I come by it honestly!

Growing up in a military family, I never lived anywhere longer than three years, usually less. So I developed a habit of keeping everything because I knew I would go through it when it came time to move. It’s easy to throw things out when you have a deadline and can only take what fits inside one box! Being a middle child, I was extremely attached to my friends. Therefore, the things I kept all had sentimental value— tons of photos, special t-shirts, and a handful of mementos tied to specific memories. The items were few, but they were extremely special to me. In many cases, they were the only way for me to hold onto friendships from my past.

Jeff lost his mom very suddenly when he was ten, so he also has a tendency to hold onto things for sentimental reasons. Being an only child, all his stuff was valuable and “special;” and since he lived in the same house until he went to college, he never really had a reason to get rid of it!

Fast forward a few decades, and here we are, surrounded by stuff.

We have lived in our current house for almost 13 years. Y’all, by the time I turned 13, I had already lived in 5 states (one of them twice), plus Germany! I used to dream of living in the same place my whole life. Now, here we are— our children don’t remember any home but this one. That is a blessing I don’t take for granted! 

However…

A lot of excess “stuff” can be accumulated in thirteen years. And while we have purged things again and again over the years, it’s not the same as having to keep only what you can fit in a box. Add to that four children, homeschooling, various ministries, a basement full of “inherited items,” and Jeff’s home office, and you can imagine why we are drowning in stuff!

As I look around me, I know what to do— I just don’t know where to start that will actually make a difference.

Every year, we decide THIS is the year we will clean out our house.  I make a plan and get to work, but after about two rooms, I give up. It’s just too much! I come across a box of books I can’t part with or some craft supplies I’m not sure what to do with, and it paralyzes me. I get stuck, and I just can’t seem to move forward. It’s too daunting, too much, too hard. Stuff comes pouring in faster than I can get rid of it, and I end up waving the white flag and giving up.

So this year, I knew I needed to approach it differently. I don’t just want to declutter our home or clean up our space, I want it to be transformed into something different. I don’t just want it to look different, but feel different, too. I want it to be different.

But how? That’s the question.

I decided to use a few things as a filter. First, as I mentioned in my last blog post, God has been changing the way I think, and that applies to our home as well. So, as I look around me, I am keeping this perspective:

  • Less, but better
  • (Keep) what matters most
  • Pray first

Second, I keep reminding myself that this is a process. True transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, usually way more than we expect. This is no exception! So I am focusing on taking really small steps consistently over time, trusting that God will use them to make a dramatic difference. And I am using the “Tools for Transformation” that I mentioned a couple weeks ago as a guide (you can read about those HERE).

Here’s what that looks like:

Review: 

First, I took some time to think about our home. What do I like about it? What annoys me? How do I want people to feel when they come over? How do I want it to feel to our family? What do I want our kids to remember about our home? (Seriously, don’t skip this step. It makes all the difference!)

I love that we really live in our home, and that people feel like part of our family when they are here. I don’t like feeling like we are drowning in clutter. And I don’t like using most of our “free time” cleaning it and organizing all our stuff. I want it to be a refuge of peace and joy, not a source of chaos and stress.

After thinking through those questions, I made a list of all of the “spaces” I could think of within our home. Since I know from experience that even going room by room overwhelms me, I decided to go even smaller. I broke down rooms into drawers, cabinets, items— whatever makes the most sense for that space. 

I need my tasks to be manageable, and I rarely have more than about 20 minutes at a time. So I thought in terms of 10, 20, and 30-minute projects, and made my list accordingly. I didn’t think of everything, but that’s okay! When I notice additional tasks, I just add them to my list. My goal is to work on three areas each week, and I actually schedule them in my planner. If I get extra motivated, I can choose to do more, but if I cross off three things, I feel accomplished. (Also, there are no rules, so I can change my 3 things halfway through the week if I want… and I have!)

Remove:

Once I decide on my three tasks for the week, the first thing I do in each space is REMOVE anything that is not essential. (Actually, the first thing I do is pray… God, please help me know what I need to keep and what I can let go of. Show me what matters and what doesn’t. Help me cling to You instead of my stuff, and remind me that this is an opportunity to be generous with others.) THEN I start removing stuff. 

The more I can get rid of, the better. I have been re-organizing and rearranging my clutter long enough! My goal is to get rid of at least one-third of what I currently have (“less, but better!”), so I aim for either throwing away or donating 50%. That way, if I can’t quite do it, I’ve still reached my goal. And if I am able to get rid of that much, it’s even better! I will likely need to revisit this step multiple times, and that’s okay. I just have to start somewhere.

Reorder:

Once I’ve removed all the excess from a given space, I begin to organize what remains. This part is actually turning out to be pretty easy once all the stuff I don’t need is gone. Go figure!

Renew:

This is where I get to add stuff in. In the “home” area, I am being very cautious about this one. I don’t want to get in the habit of replacing my clutter with new clutter, so anything I purchase needs to have a purpose. I like the idea of removing something for every item brought in. 

Now, for the purpose of my blog, I am hoping to give a “Transformation Update” each Tuesday, focusing on a specific area. (They will usually be a lot shorter than this one… you’re welcome!) This week’s transformation update is a Home Edition!

 Here’s where I made progress in January:

  • Kitchen pantry (in 3 steps)… it was making me crazy, so it was first priority! 
  • Essential oils (1 step)
  • My closet (6 steps… drawers x2, shelves, hanging clothes, bins, and memorabilia boxes)

That’s a lot, right? But as I look around our house, I am tempted to feel discouraged. It doesn’t look like I’ve accomplished anything at all! Yet transformation comes in small steps, taken one at a time. And my closet makes me happy now! So if you need me, that’s where I’m doing all my zoom meetings and phone calls this month! Lol!

What I’m learning in this area is that it’s important to focus, use the tools, and just start. Take small steps and be patient. Monitor my progress, so I can remind myself it is actually happening. In time, the transformation will happen. And in the meantime, I am able to bless others with my excess… bagfuls of it!

So, friends, where do you want to start? Do you need to make a list of tasks? What do you need to let go of? What are three small steps you can take this week towards transforming your space? Let’s do this together!

Transformation: A Different Way of Thinking

I am sitting in our host’s gorgeously furnished basement, surrounded by strangers. Jeff is talking to the nice middle-aged lady next to us, making her laugh about something random. There’s a spread of food on the tables behind us. I know I should probably be impressed by the professional sauna and enormous wine cellar next to the bathroom, but I have never really been one for fancy things. I am, however, second-guessing my decision to wear jeans!

My friend, Cindy, moves to the front of the room, and the crowd hushes. She begins to speak, sharing the story of how she first fell in love with the children of Swaziland. She tells us about her initial trip; of the people she met, the poverty she saw, and the myriad of emotions swirling inside her. On the screen behind her are photos of smiling women in colorful clothing weaving grass mats . There are beautiful, brown-skinned children with no shoes and dirt-smudged faces. Cindy tells us how her heart broke as she left that country, and how she struggled with the abundance surrounding her when she returned home. 

“I remember asking God, ‘What do you want me to do? How can I help? Am I like the rich young ruler who must give up everything he owns in order to follow You?’”  With tears in her eyes, she continued. “And as I looked around my living room, God whispered, ‘No. But what if you simply give me your excess…”

Cindy and her husband, Jared, already honored God with their every day life. The Lord didn’t need them to give everything away; He just wanted them to consider giving away what they didn’t actually need

Their excess.

That event was almost ten years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. My friend’s words have echoed in my heart ever since. What is my excess? How do I determine the difference between what I need and what I want?  Where is the line between enough and excess? I have continued to ask myself those questions in the years since that day.

What Cindy was talking about was a different way of thinking. God was “renewing her mind” by changing her thoughts about what she needed, what she valued, and what she could give.

If you follow my blog, you know my “word” for 2021 is transform. Along with that, I am using Romans 12:1-2 to guide me through whatever areas God chooses to focus on.  I often think of Cindy when I read these verses. Of all my friends, she is certainly one who offers herself wholeheartedly as a “living sacrifice” for God’s glory. 

Her compassion and heart for justice are evident in everything she does. She refuses to “conform to the patterns of this world,” and thinks so differently than our current culture. But most of all, she seeks to know and do the will of God by constantly allowing Him to renew her mind through His Holy Spirit and His Word. As a result, He has not only transformed Cindy’s life, but the lives of countless others. 

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

What does it look like when we allow God to “renew our mind?” What does that even mean? Basically, it’s just a fancy way of saying we should let God determine how we think instead of depending on our own thoughts or the opinions of others. 

As I have been praying through the different areas I mentioned in my last blog post, I keep wondering why it is that some things are easy for me to keep ordered, while other areas of my life are prime pickings for a show like “Hoarders.” Why do my priorities get so out of whack? What is it that keeps me from being consistent?

After some introspection, I’ve decided a determining factor is excess.  

(Sound familiar?)

Too much of a good thing is actually not so good. Too much of a bad thing is even worse! Just think about it—

  • Too much sugar leads to weight gain and all kinds of other health problems.
  • Too much alcohol can destroy not just your liver, but your entire life. 
  • Too much “stuff” leads to untamable clutter. 
  • Too many activities in your schedule (even if they are good things) lead to an overwhelmed soul. 
  • Too much fear leads to anxiety. 
  • Too much social media leads to FOMO, isolation, and self-preoccupation. 
  • Too much focus on your children can lead to neglecting your spouse. 
  • Too much time with friends can interfere with your work/school/family life.
  • Too many voices lead to indecision and confusion.

It all gets to be too much after awhile!

The common factor in all these examples is excess. It’s simply too much! And as I look at the different areas of my life, I must admit that much of what I wrestle with is a result of drowning in excess. Too much stuff, too many choices, too many activities, too many distractions. 

So it leaves me asking, what if I give God my excess?

I heard a teaching recently by Greg McKeown on doing only the essential. I enjoyed it so much, I promptly bought his book, Essentialism (which is currently in my January book stack). Much of what he writes has helped clarify the way God wants me to think differently for the purpose of transformation. While there are many avenues through which He can renew our mind, these are the three main ideas God continues to impress upon my heart right now.

3 ways God is renewing my thinking for the purpose of transformation

1.  Less, but better

“… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

In our over-achieving, super-sized culture, God is whispering, “Less, but better.” 

Do less. Spend less. Commit to less. Speak less…. but be more intentional about everything! Make what you do, what you buy, what you say, and what you commit to actually mean something. Get rid of clutter, indulgence, obligations, and distractions, so you can make the most of what really matters. Which leads me to the next thought…

2. Do what matters most

“Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Cor. 10:23)

One of the greatest lies of our culture is, “You can have it all!” The truth is, we may be able to do it all, but we can’t do it all well Our time, energy, and resources are finite. We cannot give 100 percent to our work, and our family, and our hobbies, and our friends, and our health, and our obligations, and God. We only have 100 percent to give, and like it or not, it must be divided between “all the things.” Something will suffer, no matter what the world tells us.

Which means we have to choose what matters most (and what doesn’t)…or let someone else choose for us.

While the world is yelling, “You can do it all!” God is whispering to me, “Do what matters most.” When I look back on my life in ten, twenty, fifty years, what is really going to matter? What will I regret? Changing the way I think about this will help me intentionally invest in what matters most.

3. Pray first

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

You and I are completely surrounded by noise. The world around us is filled with voices shouting their opinions of who we are, what we should believe, what we should do, and how we should do it. Everyone has an opinion, and they are more than happy to share it!

But there is only One whose opinion really matters. When I am trying to discern the line between enough and excess, or what is hindering me, or what truly matters most, He is the only One qualified to answer. The author of my story is the only one who should determine my steps. 

But this requires stepping away from the noise and intentionally sitting at His feet. Consistently. Repeatedly. Purposefully. Before doing anything else. Even when it’s inconvenient. Even when I might not like the answer. Even when I think I already know what I need. Seeking His voice above the world, above my own even, is an act of worship, a way to acknowledge His lordship and authority in my life. 

If I truly long for transformation, I must surrender to the only One who has the power to transform me. I must think in terms of “less, but better.” I must choose to do what matters most. And above all, I must pray first.

Friends, this is my next step in allowing God to transform me in 2021— developing a different way of thinking. How is He changing the way you think?

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

Now, to finish my story…

In case you were wondering, Cindy and Jared chose to give God their “excess,” and they went on to found the non-profit foundation, All 4 Jesus. “It’s mission is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the lost, the hurting, the hungry, and orphaned.” Their heart for surrender continues to inspire other families (including ours) to think differently about how they can use their excess time and resources to honor Jesus. You can find out more about their ministry at https://www.all4jesusfoundation.org.

“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.” 

Romans 12:1-2, NIV, *emphasis added

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!

Looking Back and Moving Forward: 7 Questions to Guide You into 2021

Well friends, can you believe it? It’s the last day of 2020.

We made it!

Do you remember last New Year’s Eve? So many of us were looking forward to not only a new year, but a new decade! The beginning of a new beginning.  A chance to start fresh, to see things clearly, to create something new. We thought we were going to have “20/20” Vision, remember?

Instead, as the saying goes, it turns out “Hindsight is 20/20.”

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

I don’t think anyone can say this year looked like what they expected. I mean, who expects Tiger King, a global pandemic, a toilet paper shortage, a disputed Presidential election, and murder hornets (whatever happened to those anyway? Wait, forget I asked!) all in one year?

And that is only the beginning of what many of you faced this year. Job loss, separation from or loss of loved ones, financial stress, cancelled milestones… it has been a way different year than we all expected, for sure.

Yet, even in the darkness, there are moments of joy and lessons of light to be grasped. If we focus on the darkness, that is all we see, and it’s easy to lose our way. But if, in the midst of darkness, we search for light, even the tiniest spark will illuminate our path. 

Jesus came into our world at a time of great political and social unrest. In fact, He assured us that as long as we live in this world, we will experience trouble, hardship, and suffering. (John 16:33) But He goes on to remind us that He has overcome the darkness of this world. He is the light we long for in the darkness! He is the peace we so desperately seek. He is where we find our hope.

I’m sure we are all more than ready to kiss 2020 good-bye, but the reality is that 2021 probably isn’t going to look much different. Masks, quarantines, cancelled events, social media madness, political chaos— I’m afraid they are all going to stick around for awhile. The difference this time around is they are not unexpected. 

And expectations can make all the difference!

More than anything, I believe this year has revealed to us the illusion of our own control. Going into 2020, we thought we controlled our time, our travel plans, our priorities, our activities, and even our health to a large extent. How quickly we learned how little control we actually have over our own lives! 

Friends, sometimes it’s good to be reminded that we are not in control. 

We can do all the right things and bad things still happen. We can plan things out perfectly and those plans can disappear in an instant. There is something about uncertainty that clarifies our priorities. When all the excess things are stripped away, we find ourselves grasping for what we value most. And sometimes we can’t discern those things any other way.

So, before we start a new year, I want to encourage you to take some time to peek back into the darkness of 2020 and search for the light. Here are a few questions I am asking myself that I thought might be helpful for you as well.

Looking back at 2020:

1. What am I grateful for?

2. What did I lose or miss out on last year that I am still grieving?  What did I gain?

3. What have I learned?

Pondering my answers to these questions is helping me discern who/what is most important to me, what I truly value, and what I need to prioritize as I move forward. It’s important to keep those priorities in mind as we answer the next set of questions.

Moving forward into 2021:

4. Who/what do I most value? How can I make sure those stay my top priority in the coming year (even in uncertain circumstances)?

5. What is God leading me to let go of? (This may be certain habits, relationships, thought patterns, labels, activities, etc.)

6.  What is God calling me to BE in 2021?

7. What is God calling me to DO in 2021?

As we were discussing how 2020 has affected our family, one of our girls declared that it really hasn’t affected us that much, and our other kids agreed. And in the grand scheme, they are correct— we have not lost any loved ones to COVID, Jeff’s job is still secure, we are financially stable and currently all healthy, all of which we are grateful for! 

But there were plenty of disappointments and cancelled plans, especially for the kids. So when I asked her why she thought we weren’t affected, she said, “Well, I guess it’s because our family is just really good at rolling with things!”

Jeff and I try to live our lives in a way that reflects that God is in control, no matter what. We don’t always do it perfectly, but this year has given us plenty of opportunities to practice it, that’s for sure! Our goal has been to feel the darkness and grieve the losses when necessary, but then to refocus our eyes and look for the light. 

And without fail, we have found it. There are always hidden blessings, secret sources of joy, and unexplainable peace waiting there in the darkness, if only we will look for them.  Sometimes that light shines like a lantern; other times it is no bigger than a birthday candle. But in the darkest room, even a tiny flame can dispel some of the darkness. And once we find it, it remains with us, casting light in other places of darkness, spreading its glow to those around us, slowly illuminating the way forward.

Friends, take a few minutes today or tomorrow to search the darkness of 2020 for the glimpses of light. Get alone with God and ask Him to speak truth to your heart. Let those glimmers shine into the new year and show you how to start. Don’t worry about making resolutions or planning anything out twelve  months ahead (or even two weeks, lol!). Just listen to your Father and hold your days with open hands. Let His voice and the truth you’ve gleaned in 2020 guide you one step at a time.

And do not fear.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” –John 1:5 (NIV)

Wishing you all the Light of Jesus to guide your steps in 2021~

Active Expectation: 4 Steps to Ready Your Soul for Christ

Guest Post by Yolanda Lichty, December 2020

NOTE: Friends, please welcome our first guest blogger for December! I am super excited to introduce y’all to my sweet friend, Yolanda. She is a middle school teacher, a beautiful, thoughtful writer who loves Jesus, and she just happens to be Canadian (so if you notice some words spelled differently, you’ll know why!). You can read more about her and find ways to follow her writing at the end of this post. I am so thankful she agreed to share her words with us today. Enjoy!

The room was cold, empty, half-forgotten. Dubbed the old gym, it waited above the student lounge for more funds and blue prints yet to be drawn. The vaulted ceilings were anything but grand, only giving space for barred windows and gray metal rafters. Still, somehow, in the bleak cold of December, it was the best place–a dark, shadowy, waiting place. 

And we came, one by one with blankets, winter coats, candles, and our own harried, half-grown souls. We came expecting. Expecting what? We didn’t really know. “Come to Advent,” they said, so we did. 

Sitting round in a circle, leaning against each other, sharing blankets, watching the candle light flicker in each other’s eyes, we listened as someone read the Old Story. A stumbling nation grew impatient and nearly gave up hoping for the Messiah, promised by Isaiah, Malachi, and others. The people walked in darkness, and the little bit of light they found did little to satisfy their expectations. 

“Come Messiah, come Messiah, come Messiah, we still wait

For the fruition of the great promise you gave,

Come Messiah, save us from cruel Roman hate,

Come Messiah, come now before it’s too late.” (Yolanda Lichty, 2014)

Come He did, and most of Bethlehem missed Him. Few in Judea recognized Him. The children of Abraham had distracted themselves with so many man-made ways to please the Father, that they forgot to expect the Son. 

I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent. I saw the word around Christmas time and assumed they were one and the same. I didn’t know that Christmas without Advent is like a gang of old friends showing up on your doorstep around seven thirty Monday morning. You love the old friends and want to welcome them with open arms; but the washer is spinning, the toast is burning, and your mind is whirling with the week’s to-do list. Christmas isn’t Christmas without Advent, because we cannot celebrate Jesus, if we are not expecting His Presence.

So, friend, this December, may I tell you a little secret?

Jesus is coming.

He might be coming in the form of a neighbour dropping by with cookies. He might be coming as a still, small whisper in your soul. He might be coming in a crabby son who needs to be held and hushed and kissed. He might be coming with the Salvation Army sign, tinkling bell, and the invitation to give. He might be coming in the strains of a virtual Christmas choir. Just know, He’s coming. 

We get to expect Him. This Christmas, the world may be under lockdown, but my risen Jesus comes through locked doors and into locked hearts. He comes into our empty spaces, our loneliness, or unfilled days on the calendar and fills them with Himself. What can we do to actively expect Him, so that we don’t miss Him when He comes?

Prepare Space: 

It can be a window looking down on the street with a candle on its sill. It can be a corner of the classroom where a few dogwood sticks make a Jesse tree. (That worked for my seventh grade last year.) It can be the hide-hole under the stairs where you go to be still for a while. Wherever it is, dim the lights, close the curtains, and prepare space for Jesus to enter in.

Prepare Time: 

Look at your calendar and choose the time. My college Advent services were at nine at night. When I did Advent with my students, it was sometimes first thing in the morning and sometimes squeezed into fifteen minutes after lunch, but every day the time was carved out ahead of time so we could anticipate it.

Prepare Your Heart: 

When you’ve brought yourself to the set apart space in the set apart time, take a few minutes to set aside the day’s stress. Give them to the Father. Confess the day’s faults. Then be still. Breathe deeply, read some Scripture, sing a few Advent songs, but mostly give space for silence.

Invite others: 

While there is something incredibly good about taking time alone with Jesus, the presence of others enriches the experience of Advent. A nation waited for the Messiah. All people of every generation expect the final return of King Jesus. Share these moments of expectation with others. Not convinced? Let me share a couple stories.

My second year at college, I stumbled into a conversation with the dean of men, a gaunt man with a scraggly beard and the pure heart of a child. He’d learned somewhere about Advent wreaths, with special candles for different days.  He didn’t think we’d need to go into all the details, but he’d kind of like to make one. If he made the base and got some greens together, could I help make it, maybe find someone else to help, too? I told him I had no clue what I was doing, but I’d try. I thought of a dormie (dorm-mate) of mine, a quiet, tiny girl with a knack for beautifying her corner of the world. I invited her to join us. There, in the dark, greasy corner of the maintenance garage, we assembled a lovely wreath with boxwood, cedar, dogwood, and spruce. We giggled as we stuck in a branch here, twisted a vine there, trimmed some holly, and added berries. Somehow in that moment of communal preparation, we caught the wonder of Advent.

Jesus is coming.

Last year, in my classroom, we all coloured a picture or two to hang on the Jesse tree. We pulled down the blinds, cleared our desks, and turned out the lights. We took turns reading the Scriptures and holding the candles. We sang and prayed together; and the quiet got into our souls. In one of the craziests seasons of the year, my seventh graders were calm, and so was I. The warmth of God’s Presence held us like the softest blanket.

Jesus is coming.

Friend, I invite you to prepare a space and time, to prepare your heart, and to invite others to wait with you (especially the children). Jesus is coming, if we have eyes to behold Him. Expect Jesus to show up and be delighted and surprised when He shows up in the most unexpected ways.

Yes, Jesus is coming, and I can hardly wait!

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

Advent Resources I’ve Used:

The Greatest Gift a book of Advent meditations by Ann VosKamp

Jesse Tree Ornament printables available free on AnnVoskamp.com under the “Free Tools” tab

Free dogwood branches growing in the ditch

Candles of any shape and size

This Year I’m Using: Advent Devotions & Christmas Crafts for Families a book by Victoria Duerstock

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

Yolanda Lichty, a Mennonite from Southern Ontario, (yes, Canada), lives at home with four of her five siblings. She entered the classroom as a student in 1999 and hasn’t left it since, currently teaching seventh grade. Small natural wonders, child’s play, and the minor key fascinate Yolanda. She longs for women to love God with their minds as a path to intentional, abundant life and would love if you’d join her in discovering grace and truth at travelight94.com. You can also find her on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.ca/yolandalichty/_created/.

So What Do We Do Now, America?

Well, friends, it’s been several days since the General Election. Americans showed up at the polls in record number. All the ballots have been marked and the votes have been cast. America has spoken… (we have no idea what we actually said, but that’s beside the point!)

So, what do we do now?

First, let’s talk about what we don’t do. 

We don’t act like three year olds who didn’t get their way. We don’t throw temper tantrums, lash out, or take our toys and go home. 

We don’t act like middle-schoolers who think we know everything, smiling to our friends’ faces while we talk about them behind their back and find ways to embarrass them on social media. 

We don’t act like many of our politicians who use their words and platforms to emphasize what divides us.

No, America, we are better than that. 

So what do we do now?

We show up.

Remember all those issues we were so passionate about this past month? Remember the things we argued about on Facebook, the things we couldn’t believe our “friends” could be so unconcerned and uncaring about? Abortion, immigration, education, civil rights, the job market, the environment… remember those things?

Guess what? They are still issues.

Believe it or not, they were issues several decades ago, and they will likely still be issues several decades from now. Legislation is important, of course. But making a rule rarely fixes the problem…

That part is up to us.

So what do we do now? 

Friends, we can’t just show up to vote, we have to actually SHOW UP. Period. 

Choose to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

What does that look like? 

  • Put your money where your mouth is. 
  • Actually do as you say, not just as you say you do. 
  • Put down your phone, step away from the computer, and DO something!

You see, we live in this weird time in which everyone’s opinion seems to matter. With the click of a button, we have an enormous audience instantly applauding our words, and if we’re honest, that makes us feel important. It makes us feel like we’ve done something important, just by using our “voice”. 

But it’s a lie, y’all. We haven’t actually done anything.

Newsflash: No one reverses their opinion from a social media post, and the world is not a better place simply because we tweeted something. Posting and doing are two entirely different things. One is easy and self-edifying; the other is more difficult and actually costs us something.

Now, you should know, I am preaching to myself, too. 

Even as I write this blog post, I am fighting the urge to feel heroic. Surely my words count for something, right? And isn’t it noble to motivate people to action?

Not really. 

Talk is cheap, friends, even for people like me who invest a lot of time and thought into our words. Especially for people like me!

I am prone to think I’ve done something simply because I’ve talked about it and advocated for it and encouraged others to do something about it. But at the end of the day, all I’ve done is talk, and the issues still remain.

One good thing about this circus of an election is it has led many of us to honestly evaluate what is important to us and why. But I can’t help asking myself, if those issues are such a strong determiner of what matters to me and to our country, then what am I actually doing about it?

Voting is not enough. Posting is not enough. Arguing is not enough.

It’s time to do something!

Because when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter who the President is or which party controls Congress. Laws will passed and repealed. Parties will be elected and then defeated. 

Meanwhile, there are young women in crisis, praying for someone to rescue them. There are struggling boys without fathers, in desperate need of love and leadership. There are immigrants and refugees right down the road who need furniture, job training, and someone to teach them to speak English. There are foreign countries plotting against us, and not enough people to protect us. There are people living in extreme poverty all around the world.

Pregnant teens need support, neglected children need foster homes, and the local food pantries need replenishing. 

It can be overwhelming when you really think about it!

And honestly, that’s what leads to my personal passivity. 

There is so much to do, so many people who need help, so many issues I care about, that I don’t know where to start. 

How do I decide what’s most important? 

How do I find time to help when my schedule is already so full?

How do I know how much to donate, especially if my budget is tight?

And how do I know if I am doing enough?

It reminds me of watching my boys play soccer. They are usually a force to be reckoned with—they are unbeatable on defense and unstoppable on offense. But this year, I’ve noticed they have struggled playing midfield. They seem unsure of whether they should attack, stay back, or stall for their teammates. So instead, they end up doing nothing. They stand there, frozen, unable to make a decision.

And they end up missing the opportunity to make a difference.

Y’all, I do the same thing. I don’t want to do the wrong thing, or I’m not really sure how to help, so I end up doing nothing at all.

And I miss my opportunity to make a difference. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss any more opportunities.

  • Like Esther, I believe we were created for such a time as this. 
  • Like Abraham, we need to be willing to step out in faith and go where God leads us.
  • Like Moses, we need to be willing to put our fears aside and do what God tells us to do.
  • Like the disciples, we need to boldly share the hope we’ve been given by meeting the needs of those God puts in our path.

My favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot, made popular a poem by an unknown author, entitled, “Do The Next Thing.” She returned to it often when she found herself unsure of what to do.  These two stanzas seem particularly relevant to us:

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

So what do we do now, America?

If we vote our values, we must live our values. We don’t have to do everything, but we must do something!

  • Volunteer to teach English/job skills to some local refugees. 
  • Sign up to be a mentor at your local school. 
  • Buy groceries for the Food Pantry. 
  • Sponsor a child and buy Free Trade products.
  • Get trained to volunteer or lead a Bible Study at your local Crisis Pregnancy Center. 
  • Coach a basketball team in an underprivileged area. 
  • Provide furniture for someone rescued from sex trafficking. 
  • Offer to take dinner or babysit for a foster/adoptive family.
  • Donate to your local homeless shelter and find out other ways you can help. 
  • Send care packages to our soldiers (or become one yourself). 

Get involved! And take your children with you. Our actions speak much louder than our words!

I don’t really care who you voted for or why. We are called to be Light in the darkness, to take the hope of Christ to the nations and to our neighbors.

So, what are you going to do now, America?

That part is up to you. 

Just do something.

Teachable Moments: Taking the Fear and Stress Out of Parenting Challenges

“The stress of facing a crisis with my children is definitely my favorite part of parenting!” …said no parent ever!

Yet, have you ever noticed how we seem to learn the most during the hard times? One of the greatest lessons I have learned about parenting is not to fear the challenges our children face, but to be grateful for them because they become teachable moments we might not have otherwise.

When our children were much younger, Jeff and I found ourselves in what felt like a crisis situation with our neighbors. Every time we went outside to play in our backyard, their very friendly (but also very large) labradoodle would run over barking, jump up on our one year old, and push him to the ground. Their daughters would knock on the door to see if our girls could play, then hide in the bushes and throw things at them when they came outside. They called our girls words they had never heard before. They even stole our snowman out of our front yard… with Jeff watching!

I can tell you honestly, I was not thanking God for that “opportunity.” I was figuring out how we could move! 

But those encounters led to some really important conversations about how our faith determines our actions instead of our feelings and how what we see on the outside is often a reflection of something deeper going on beneath the surface. We talked about being kind and setting healthy boundaries— not something I planned to address with a four year old, but there we were!

Our neighbors obviously had some personal struggles going on; however, we didn’t know the extent until a few years later. Once those issues were addressed, their family dynamics became much healthier. We ran into them at the pool one day and my girls were surprised because they were actually kind! 

Learning the truth and seeing how their girls had changed became another teachable moment. It enabled us to talk about forgiveness, grace, and second chances. These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves.

And that is something to be grateful for!

“These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves. That is something to be grateful for!”

When your daughter is dealing with friend drama, you can call the other moms or seize the opportunity to talk with your girl about what real friendship looks like (and doesn’t look like), as well as what kind of person she wants to be, both now and when she grows up.

When your son and his friends make a dumb choice and get into some trouble, you can yell at him or cover for him, or you can take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure, consequences, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the power of influence. 

When your child has a personality struggle with a boss or teacher, you can rescue them or teach them how to adjust their actions to align with different leadership styles. This will serve them well in life as they find themselves under different authority figures, some of whom they likely will not completely agree with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we catch our kids searching for something inappropriate on-line or caught up in some sort of crazy friend drama, you will not find Jeff and I skipping in circles, singing Oh Happy Day! No, we are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. But the advantage of having four kids is we’ve learned that most of these struggles are a normal part of growing up. They are not an exception; they should be expected. 

The important thing is how we handle them.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Paul David Tripp mentions this idea throughout his book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. He puts beautiful words to what my heart has learned over the years:

Be thankful for these little moments. Don’t look at them as the bad moments of parenting, as hassles and interruptions; these are the good moments of parenting. These are moments of grace… Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace. God loves your children and because He does, he has placed them in a family of faith so that you can be his tool of convicting, forgiving, and transforming grace. You are faced with the resistance of your children because God is a God of amazing grace. His grace has the power to turn very bad moments into very good moments. Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus Christ is about?

—Paul David Tripp

God is a Master at taking bad situations and transforming them into something good. King David’s indiscretions led to a conversation with the prophet, Nathan, which transformed David into a man after God’s own heart. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus led to a conversation of repentance and restoration which transformed not only Peter, but countless others as well. And God transformed Jesus’s death on the cross, arguably the worst thing that has ever happened, into the best thing that ever happened to us! 

We do not need to fear or stress over the difficult situations we face as parents. God can transform each one of them into something good! When Jeff and I find ourselves faced with yet another parenting challenge, we remind ourselves (or more often, he reminds me!) to take a breath and view it as a “moment of grace.” I am grateful our children are learning these lessons at home and that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk through it with them. That will not always be the case, I know. 

So, for now, we will be grateful and embrace these challenging moments as teachable opportunities.

This is grace.