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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING TO THE RIGHT VOICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Esther listened to voices of wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOD WAS IN THE WHISPER.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be aware- this can look different than we think. 

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

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

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

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

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

4. Esther & Mordecai listen to the Voice of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

(It sounds a lot like Jesus to me.)

Remember, God comes in the whisper.

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

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

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

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

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

He is our Coach, our Authority, our Expert- 

His voice is the only one that matters.

And He comes in the whisper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Steps to embracing transition

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

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

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

Step 1: Reflect on the past

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

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

Step 2: Embrace the moment

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

Soak up the encouragement.

Learn what you can.

Try something new.

Make some memories.

Reach out with gratitude.

And above all, embrace this moment!

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

Step 3: Adjust your course

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

Here. Now.

At this mile marker.

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

Step 4: Move forward in hope

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

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

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

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

Reflect on the past.

Embrace the moment.

Adjust your course.

And move forward in hope.

Moving Forward

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

It’s a bit overwhelming.

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

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

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

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

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

Step by step.

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

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

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

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

They helped me move forward.

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

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

One tiny step at a time.

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

We don’t want to move on too quickly. 

We don’t want to be insensitive to others.

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s okay.

It’s okay to move forward. 

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

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

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

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

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

Joy comes in the morning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And neither is ours. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the enemy loves this. 

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

But there is One who is greater.

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

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

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

Instead, He brings His Presence. 

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

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

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

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

And so I pray… 

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

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Memorial Day: Embracing the Freedom to Remember

It’s Memorial Day. 

For most of us, that means a day off of work, yummy food on the grill, and quality time with family, preferably near water of some sort- a pool, a lake, or an ocean.

I wonder how many people actually pause the celebrations in order to reflect and remember?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but growing up in an Air Force family gave me a much larger worldview than many people have. While I didn’t enjoy uprooting from my friends every other year to move to yet another “home,” there are many aspects of the military life I am grateful for today. One of the many virtues my “brat-life” gave me is an appreciation of freedom.

We often hear it said, “Freedom isn’t free,” and it’s true. But even after 9-11, I’m not sure most of us really grasp the dangers constantly lurking in the shadows, and the efforts required to keep them at bay.

Freedom looks different when you live on a military base overseas where cars are routinely checked for explosives and “bomb threat drills” are commonplace at school. 

Freedom looks different when a family member is gone for months at a time (or more), missing milestones and everyday life, while stepping into harm’s way on a daily basis for the benefit of others. 

Freedom looks different when those family members finally come home, but they are different, changed. The price they pay continues through their emotional isolation, struggling marriages, and continual nightmares. 

And freedom looks different when someone’s parent, brother, sister, or friend doesn’t make it home at all. When they pay the ultimate price.

Friends, freedom definitely comes at a high cost. What makes it even more valuable is those who are paying that price have chosen to do so. We live in a country with a voluntary military (as opposed to mandatory required service), so these men and women willingly sign up to defend us and protect our nation’s ideals, both here and around the world. They do so knowing what is expected of them and what possible outcomes lie ahead. But they believe in freedom, protection, and liberty enough to answer the call.

Theirs is a call of courage, of commitment, of sacrifice. 

Over the past few months, we have been reminded just how many freedoms we enjoy daily that we often take for granted. Education, employment, and entertainment, to name a few… so many things that many people in the world will never have access to.  The loss of those things has been felt tremendously in recent days. Perhaps now we have a greater understanding and appreciation of our freedom.

So today, as we enjoy the many liberties we so often take for granted in this great nation, let’s take a few minutes to remember those who sacrificed so much to ensure these freedoms. Let’s treasure these moments with our families, and remember those who have an empty seat at their table today. 

And let’s try to live in a manner worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf.

“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:13

When Life Gives You More Than You Bargained For

Have you ever gotten something you’ve hoped for, something you’ve wanted for a long time, only to realize it’s a lot more than you bargained for?

Well, my husband recently bought some chickens.

SIXTEEN CHICKENS, to be exact.

Actually, he didn’t really buy the chickens; his company bought some property and the chickens came along with it.

Did I mention there are 16 chickens?!!

Now, I’m not going to lie… I was super excited. I have wanted chickens for YEARS and now my dream was finally coming true! Do you have any idea how many eggs our family goes through in a week? I transitioned to buying the “5 dozen Eggs” box from Costco about a year ago when my boys learned how to cook eggs by themselves. Having our own chickens seems like the perfect solution!

But there’s a problem.

Our neighborhood covenants do not allow us to have chickens. Oh, and the property where the chickens currently reside? It’s two hours south, on the other side of Atlanta from our home. 

Yeah, that might be a challenge. 

Sometimes something we really want ends up being a bit more than we bargained for.

When I was a senior in college, I got a car- a used Chevy Cavalier. It was silver and beautiful and all mine! I was so excited. And while it got me where I needed to go, we soon discovered there was a tiny hole in the oil tank which required me to refill it with oil every month or so, or I would ruin the engine. 

Growing up, I always dreamed of marrying my handsome “prince” and living happily ever after, only to get married and find out marriage is actually more about denying yourself and doing everything in your power to make the other person happy.

It took us several years to have a baby, and after all the longing, I couldn’t wait to hold a little one in my arms. We were so happy when the Lord blessed us with Sarah! But it didn’t take long to realize that gaining a new addition also involved loooooong days, sleepless nights, and changing and sacrificing so much of how I was used to living my life.

The first house we bought had four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and I was in love with the yellow walls and the Berber carpet. We budgeted for new furniture, only to watch all the extras add up- rugs, shower curtains, appliances, a lawn mower… not to mention all the unexpected expenses when something broke down or needed replacing. It was a rude awakening!

I could keep going, but you get the point. 

So often the things we long for bring with them way more than what we bargained for. 

In 1 Samuel Chapter 8, the nation of Israel tells Samuel they are longing to be led by a king, just like all the nations around them. God orders Samuel to “warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (v. 9) Samuel tries to explain to them that while they want a king to lead them in battle, it will bring a whole lot more than what they are expecting

But the people insist, so the Lord answers, “Listen to them and give them a king.” 

The Israelites end up with King Saul, who, though he starts off as the king they so desired, eventually disobeys the Lord, goes mad from jealousy of David, and loses the favor of God. He ends up being way more than they bargained for, and not in a good way.

Fast forward many years and the Israelites are longing for a Messiah. As in previous times, they are expecting one who will defend their cause and lead them in battle, making them the envy of the nations around them. 

Instead, they get Jesus.

He did not lead them in battle or make them the envy of the nations around them. Instead, He led them in love. He forgave their sins. He laid down His life for them- not in battle, but on the cross, ushering in a new covenant with a promise of eternity.

In Jesus, they got way more than what they bargained for.

But in the best way.

“The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect.” –Jim Elliot

Are you longing for something and growing weary of waiting? Or are you in the midst of something and finding it more than you bargained for? Maybe you got that new job, but didn’t expect it to be so hard/easy or boring/challenging. Maybe you wanted more time with your family, but didn’t realize how much patience it would require. Maybe, like Peter, you are stepping out in faith towards a dream and feeling overwhelmed by the size of the waves and the force of the wind. 

In times like these, I find myself asking if what I’m pursuing is truly God’s will or simply my own selfish desires. When I’m honest, the answer usually comes pretty quickly. 

And if I am pursuing the Lord’s will, then I must believe that whatever comes with it, even the hard stuff, is “good, acceptable, and perfect,” and will “work together for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 12:2, 8:28) If it’s not God’s will, I need to find a way to let it go.

Now, back to the chickens…

Eli bonding with his favorite chicken, “Tina”

We are still determining what to do with them. Is it God’s will for us to keep them? Time will tell. They definitely came with some challenges!

But they also came with eggs...

A little more than we bargained for!

Somewhere In Between

I went for a walk the other night, right at dusk. It was still light outside when I left my house. The air was warm and the sky was a beautiful, bright blue. As I neared the halfway point, the sun was dropping behind the trees, shining through in glimpses of pink and gold. By the time I returned home, it was not yet dark outside, but the sky was shadowed. It lingered in that place of twilight- no longer day, but not yet night…. somewhere in between.

That is where I find myself today as I write, and where I imagine many of you find yourselves as well.

After a month of social distancing and sheltering in place, the doors are slowly beginning to open and we are all holding our breath.

How is this stepping forward supposed to go? Do we fling open the gates and rush out, arms open wide like Maria in the Sound of Music? Or do we approach it with caution- cracking the door open just a smidge and peeking out, trying to catch a glimpse of what’s out there waiting for us?

To be honest, I am somewhere in between.

I have embraced this time with my family, because I know how fleeting time is and how much I will miss these days. I am grateful for this pause, for this time at home together, especially before our oldest daughter goes off to college. Sure, I have a few regrets, things I wish we had done differently, but overall it has been a gift- one we have opened every day. 

Still, I miss my freedom, and I miss my friends. As much as I love my family, a lunch date with my girlfriends has never sounded so good!  The chance to laugh, to catch up, to just be together- that would be a gift, too. 

And yet, it seems like it’s all happening so fast; a little too much, too soon, maybe. Our communities seem so fragile, as though a gust of wind (or a huff and a puff) might just blow the whole house down. 

And then what?

So if I’m honest, I’m feeling a little grateful, a little excited, and a little scared, all at the same time.

That sounds about right for the in between.

I find myself looking back at our life before the Coronavirus pushed the pause button. With a family of six, it’s bound to be busy, but it was too busy. I filled my time with a lot of good things, but over the past few weeks I have realized some of those good things have been crowding out some of the best things. When the restrictions are lifted and the busy-bus revs back to life, there are things I’m looking forward to, but there are also several things I need to let go of, even if it’s hard. 

I find myself listening now, in this space in between. Listening to my heart, to my family, and to the Lord. As I experienced on my walk the other night, there is a shifting taking place in my soul. One season is ending, and a new one is beginning. I am on the edge right now of something new God is doing; He is turning my gaze away from the past and out towards the future. I have used this time, this in between, to dig into His Word and listen for His voice. “Behold, I make all things new!” He declares. I am ready.

And I find myself looking forward to whatever lies ahead. Like the Israelites overlooking the Promised Land or the disciples eating breakfast on the beach with the risen Christ, I can’t help wondering what comes next. I don’t know exactly where He is leading, but I know He will lead me and that’s enough. I choose obedience.

 What about you, friend? Do you also find yourself somewhere in between? 

Let me encourage you to:

LOOK BACK… What should you hold onto and what should you let go of?

LISTEN NOW… What haven’t you missed from the daily rush, and what are you most grateful for in this pause? What is God whispering to your heart?

LOOK FORWARD… What are your next steps? Where do you go from here?

If you let Him, Jesus will meet you somewhere in between.

Palm Sunday Reflections

Where was I as You entered the city?

Was I walking near You 

while the people shouted Your name?

Was I leading the donkey 

or walking beside You,

Feeling important

because those who had gathered

finally knew who You really were?

This was what we’d been waiting for!

“Hail King Jesus, Son of David!”

Or was I in the crowd

among those who were cheering,

Swept up in the excitement,

the emotion of the day?

I think He’s the one…” we whispered,

laying our cloaks down before You,

recalling the rumors, the stories, the hope…

Hosanna! Hosanna! 

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

We waved our branches and sang Your praise,

and then…

went on our way.

Or perhaps I was standing apart from the crowd,

wearing my robe of importance,

hiding my envy beneath a veil of self righteousness

Unwilling to bow and quick to accuse.

Teacher, rebuke them!” 

I said condescendingly,

threatened by how Your humble sovereignty

revealed my arrogant soul.

You looked at me and laughed, 

knowing nothing could silence Creation’s praise 

in the Presence of the Creator!

Lord, if I’m honest, I see myself in each of them:

The sincere, yet self-seeking, destined to flee disciple

The self-serving, easily swayed crowd

The self-righteous, “better than thou” Pharisee…

Oh, forgive me, Jesus!

Rid me of all these “selves”

which might hinder me 

from recognizing, revering, and remaining with You.

Make me willing to lay down my life

and take up my cross

to follow You.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” -Matthew 16:24 (NIV)