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.

The Freedom of Self-Denial

“Mom, are you serious?? What is wrong with you? No one else in the world has stupid rules like this. I hate it! You’re ruining my life! You and dad are the worst!”

I sat there suppressing a smile and polishing my Mother of the Year trophy while the child-who-shall-not-be-named stomped out of the room.

Sorry, kid, this isn’t our first rodeo.

In case you’re wondering about the preposterous rule, Jeff and I recently implemented a “No technology during the school week” policy. You can imagine how well that went over.

Y’all, sometimes parenting is really hard. Okay, most of the time, parenting is really hard! Making our kids mad at us is no fun. Setting limits and boundaries we know they won’t like is terribly difficult. Listening to them tell us that we are ruining their life (and wondering if it’s true) is heart-wrenching. 

But sometimes a mom (or dad) has to do what a mom (or dad) has to do.

In this case, the reality is that our kids are different people when they are not using technology. When they know it’s an option, nothing else seems to matter. They rush carelessly through their schoolwork so they can get online with their friends. They overlook assignments or “forget” to study so they can be done faster. They lose sight of how much they love things like sports and other activities because their focus is on a screen. And though they hate to admit it, their aggression and anxiety skyrocket. 

However, when digital entertainment is no longer an option, everything changes! They take their time on their schoolwork and their grades go up. They spend time together— laughing, playing outside, making up games, and being creative. As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol. Our hope is that, through this process, they will learn the value of denying themselves and be able to choose it for themselves in the future.

In fact, on a few occasions, our older children have even handed us their phones, recognizing they needed a break from the digital world, but not trusting their own ability to resist the temptation. How cool is that?

As much as they hate the sacrifice, they quickly begin to enjoy the freedom that comes with not being tethered to an idol.

Unfortunately, it never gets any easier to deny ourselves what we really want.

Jeff and I started a new eating plan this week. I’m not going to lie; it has been tough. Our meals (I use that term loosely, lol!) are planned out for us, and our eating is extremely restricted compared to what we are used to. Honestly, it feels quite a bit like torture!

But it has also given me new perspective. I had no idea how much my life revolved around food. It is horrifying and humbling to recognize how quickly an indulgence here and there can become an all-consuming, insatiable hunger. Like my kids, I have overlooked the most important things in order to satisfy what my heart craves.  I have been ruled by the desire to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and I didn’t even know it!

However, this week, all that changed. 

This week has been an experience in self-denial. I have had to prioritize what is best for me over what I desire. I have chosen integrity over indulgence and long-term results over short-term satisfaction. My hunger pains have reminded me that while I may feel deprived, there are those who would consider my small portion a gift, an answered prayer.  As the week went along, my perspective shifted and I have grown more grateful for what I have been given instead of focusing on what has been withheld. 

I’m not quite there yet, but I am inching my way towards finding the freedom that comes from releasing an idol.

Friends, it makes me wonder. If my kids didn’t recognize how technology affects them and I didn’t realize how food affects me, what else in our lives are we blind to? In what other areas are we indulging our senses, feeding our feelings, and drowning in our desires? And what would happen if we chose to step back and open our hands, willingly denying ourselves of whatever it is that consumes us?

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

We live in a fast food world of self-indulgence. Super-sizing is expected. Entitlement is rampant. Just look at our political climate—we are so quick to claim a side, yet we have forgotten how to have a conversation.  We continually choose being right over being in relationship. We focus on our miniscule areas of disagreement instead of our larger areas of commonality. 

We are being deceived, friends! We are worshiping self-made idols and calling it freedom, when really we are enslaved to our own desires. 

I wonder what would happen if we all chose gratitude over greed. Would our world look any different if we decided to walk the path of self-denial? If, instead of feeding our selfish desires, we denied ourselves and sought to fulfill someone else’s needs? What freedom would we gain by shifting our perspective, and rather than seeing ourselves as victims of someone else’s restrictive cruelty, we decided to find freedom through restricting ourselves?

This is the perspective we are hoping our kids will grasp— that while self-denial is unpleasant at first, it can lead to great joy and freedom.

Just a few things to think about as I count the minutes until my next “fueling”…

31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Our Teens & College Students: Week Four

Wow, friends, it has been a week! If you have been following along, you already know why I initially wrote this series. (And if you are just joining us, you may want to check out 31 Days of Praying Scripture Over our Teens and College Students: Week 1)

Our oldest daughter starts college this month (along with all our other kids navigating COVID-schooling in all its forms), and I needed a way to direct my prayers. I cover the basics daily- “Lord, please keep her safe, protect her from harm, keep her healthy,” etc.

However, while all those things are important, they really aren’t the most important thing.

I wanted to make sure I was not just covering her physically, but spiritually, emotionally, and mentally as well. Above all, my greatest prayer is for her relationship with Jesus. There are so many things that will influence her faith one way or another, and I needed to be sure I was praying about them instead of just talking about them.

When we pray the Word of God (in context), we can ask confidently because we know we are praying according to His will. Thus, this series was created for that purpose.

This past weekend, Jeff and I helped Sarah move into her dorm, then made the seven hour drive home without her. It was wonderful and hard, and our emotions are still pretty much all over the place. But we are confident she is where God wants her, and she is prepared to shine! And the best way I can help her do that is through prayer.

The same is true for all my kids. And for yours!

So, if you are still on this journey with me, thank you! Thank you for loving the teens and college students in your life enough to pray. Thank you for believing that a few words whispered with a little faith and an open heart will be heard by the Creator of the universe. Because they will!

“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” -James 5:16b (NLT)

Now, there is nothing magic about these words themselves; no, the power lies not in the prayers, but in the One who hears them.

So let’s keep praying! Our teens and college students are counting on us!

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Day 22: 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

Father, it is so easy to think we are firm in our faith, but temptation lurks all around us. I pray _______________ will be careful and not fall! Remind them that no temptation is unique to them alone; Satan uses the same bag of tricks on all mankind. May they see through the enemy’s lies and claim this truth:  You are faithful; You will not let them be tempted beyond what they can bear. And when they are tempted, You will help them endure it and provide a way out. Thank You for Your faithfulness!

Day 23: Matthew 6:33-34

Father, may ________________ not worry about tomorrow- about what they will do, who they will marry, or how they will provide for their needs. May they not be distracted by pursuing those things, but instead bring those concerns to You. May they seek first Your kingdom and desire to love and serve You well, trusting You to take care all of their needs.

Day 24: Colossians 3:23-24

Father, may ________________ not be lazy or tempted to impress others. Instead, may they live out this command: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… for it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” May they develop a habit of offering You their very best, even in things that seem unimportant.

Day 25: Proverbs 4:23-27

Father, may ______________ guard their heart above all else, for everything we do flows out of our hearts. May they hide your Word in their heart so that they might not sin against You. Please keep their mouth free from perversity and keep corrupt talk from their lips. When they speak to and about others, may they speak life and truth and encouragement. Help them avoid gossip and lies; help them confront boldly but gently, filtering their words through a kind and compassionate heart. Help them fix their eyes on You, giving careful thought to the paths of their feet, so they will remain steadfast in their relationship with You all their days, in all their ways. Do not let them turn to the right or left; keep them walking in Your truth.

Day 26: Philippians 4:8-9

Father, when _____________ is feeling anxious, may they focus on thoughts that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. In other words, may they think about You and find comfort in Your Word. May they put into practice the things they learned from those who love and follow You, and may You comfort them with Your peace.

Day 27: Colossians 3:12-16

Father, You have chosen _______________ as your own, and they are holy and dearly loved by You. Therefore, may they be intentional to clothe themselves daily with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. As they interact with those around them, may they bear with each other and forgive one another, just as You so graciously forgive them. May they be bound together in love, so that even when they disagree, they may seek peace and unity of spirit. May Your peace rule in their hearts and lead them to be thankful. May they actively grow together with You through the study and application of Your Word, in lifting their voices in praise and worship, and in the bonding together of grateful hearts.

Day 28: James 1:2-4

Father, may ________________ consider it joy when they face trials of many kinds, because the testing of their faith will strengthen them and produce perseverance. I pray their perseverance will finish it’s work, so they may grow up into maturity, not lacking anything they need, but loving you wholeheartedly.

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Well, that wraps up Week 4… but we still have a few days left! I will post Days 29-31 next week, along with a way for you to print this entire series out in case you would like to use it as a resource again next month. Several of you have asked for that; unfortunately, I am not very tech savvy and it’s taking me awhile to figure out how to make that happen. Thank you for your patience!

In the meantime, feel free to screenshot this week’s prayers for easier reference each day. And if this series might be helpful to someone you know, please share it with them.

As in previous weeks, if you want to put the names of the students you are praying for in the comments, I will add them to my list! Otherwise, check back next week for the final post in our journey of praying Scripture over our teens and college students!

31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Our Teens & College Students: Week Three

Well friends, we have been on this journey of praying Scripture over teens and college students for two weeks now. That’s nearly half of our 31 day goal.

How are you doing? Is it still exciting, or are you ready for it to be over? Has it impassioned you to be in God’s Word and to pray intentionally for the teenagers in your life? For those of you in the process of dropping kids off at college, are the promises of God bringing you peace? I hope so!

Selfishly, this series has reignited my prayer life in a way that has been dormant for awhile. While I wrote this series as a way to be intentional about praying for my own children, I have especially enjoyed praying for yours! So thank you to those of you who added names in the Facebook comments. I trust God to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine in each of their lives!

Okay, enough rambling… here is week three!

Day 15: Philippians 4:6-7

Father, I pray  __________________ will not be anxious about anything, but in every situation will turn to You in prayer with a heart of gratitude. As they present their requests to You, may Your peace, which transcends all understanding, guard their heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

Day 16: Romans 12:1-2

Father, in light of Your mercy, please help ________________ present their body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to You. Help them learn that true and proper worship means living wholeheartedly for You, not just checking a church box. May they not conform to the patterns and ways of the world around them, but be transformed as You daily renew their mind with Your Word. Through walking with You and surrendering their own desires, may they be able to discern Your good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Day 17: Proverbs 3:5-6

Father, I pray  ___________________ will learn what it means to trust in You with all their heart. When they face choices and decisions, may they not lean on their own understanding, but seek Your will and wisdom. May they bring their own plans and desires before You and willingly submit to Your plan, trusting that Your ways are best. As they walk with You daily, may You continue to make their paths straight, keeping them in the center of Your will. 

Day 18: Joshua 1:9

Father, may __________________ follow Your command to be strong and courageous, regardless of their feelings or circumstances. May they not be afraid or discouraged, remembering that You, the Lord our God, have promised to be with them wherever they go.

Day 19: Ephesians 2:10

Father, I pray ____________________ will claim this truth: That they are Your handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which You prepared in advance for them to do. Help them see themself through Your eyes and live into the fullness of all You’ve created them to do.

Day 20: 1 Peter 5:7

Father, I pray ____________________ will cast all their anxieties on You, trusting and believing that You care for them, as Your word proclaims.

Day 21: Ephesians 3:17-19

Father, I pray that _________________, being rooted and established in love, may have the power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is Your love for them. May they experience Your love even though it is beyond comprehension, so that they may be filled with the fullness of who You are and share Your love with others.

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So, that’s Week Three! If you’re growing weary, DON’T GIVE UP! Our students need prayer coverage now more than ever!

If you missed the first part of my series, 31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Your Teens & College Students, you can find Week One here and Week Two here. It’s never too late to start!

As always, thanks for reading and for joining me in this battle for the hearts of our young people. I’d love to pray for the teenagers in your life! If you want, add their names here or in the comments on Facebook and I will lift them up this week.

And don’t forget to come back next week for Week Four!

4 Thought-Provoking Questions to Help You Keep Your Faith in College

Two weeks ago on a Friday night, I sat in a room full of teenagers. We sang and prayed together, then watched a virtual message by what should have been our speaker at Student Camp.

(COVID, however, had other plans.)

So instead, we were squished together in someone’s basement, making the most of our “Not Camp” experience. I listened as these about-to-be College Freshmen answered some thought-provoking questions on how to keep their faith in college. 

They discussed what it means to find our identity in Christ. They mentioned how easy it is to get distracted by what we do or to define ourselves by what others think of us. Yet, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that God is the author of life, not us. The best we can do is intentionally seek Him and live with open hands. 

I looked at these teens whom I’ve grown to love and found myself wondering: As they look towards the future, how are they going to be intentional about allowing Jesus to write their story?

A few days later, I sat on my back porch with one of those Senior girls. Lord willing, she will be heading off to college in a week or so, and I wanted to make sure she was prepared for some of the challenges that lie ahead. I know she loves Jesus, and I have watched her slowly move Him up her priority list over the past three years. I have no doubt her heart’s desire is to live boldly for Him in college!

But sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can get so distracted by what’s right in front of us that we lose sight of what we want most.

So here are some of the questions I asked my young friend that day. Maybe they will be helpful to you (or someone you know) as well.

Questions to help you keep your faith in college

1. What do you want to change about yourself from who you were in high school to who you want to be in college? What will you need to do differently to make that happen?

2.  What are you looking for in your friendships? What is your plan for finding those kind of friends?

3. What are your biggest fears about college? What do you think will be your biggest temptations?

4. What do you want your spiritual life to look like this year and how will you accomplish that?

What to expect

We talked about how fear, excitement, and nervousness are all normal emotions going into a new adventure like this. It’s perfectly okay to experience conflicting emotions! Trust me, your parents are feeling the same way!

We talked about how the environment you put yourself in will likely determine your friendships. It will also greatly impact your level of temptation. If you want Christian friends, hang out where you’re likely to find other Christians- church, Bible Study, campus ministries, etc. And be the kind of friend you hope to find!

(**It is particularly important to think through this under the current COVID restrictions. With many churches and Bible Studies still online, you may need to do a little research before you go on ways you can get connected with other Believers.)

We also talked about how everyone feels lonely sometimes, even people who are really, really happy and living their best life! And how, while you don’t want to wallow in those feelings, you also don’t want to ignore them, hiding or camouflaging them with busyness and other empty things. 

It’s good to let yourself sit in it for a moment, acknowledge it… 

And then turn to Jesus. 

Let Him remind you that even though you feel lonely, you are not actually alone. Let Him fill those parts of you that are aching, and then listen to how He directs you…

Should you spend time alone with Him? 

Reach out to a new friend? 

Call a trusted adult? 

He’ll let you know. 

But if you ignore those feelings and rush through them, you might just miss an opportunity to grow.

And that’s what college is all about: growth. 

If you want to grow spiritually, you are going to need to be intentional.

Hopefully, these questions will help you start on the right track!

Finding Balance When Life Feels Out of Control

What do you do when life feels out of control?

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

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

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

Are you feeling it, too?

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

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

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

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

Or maybe, like me, you just shut down.

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

So I’m definitely not lazy.

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

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

I do it when our schedule gets extra busy.

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

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

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

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

And how do you get yourself back on track again?

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

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

That’s where I am now. 

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

But now it’s time to regain my balance!

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

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

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

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

PRIORITIES: START WITH WHAT’S IMPORTANT

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

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

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

STRUCTURE: BRING ORDER TO CHAOS

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

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

It is time to bring some order to my chaos!

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

So I will schedule my time better this week. 

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

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

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

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

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