My freshman year of college, a close friend gave me a book that had a profound impact on my spiritual life. In His Steps is a Christian fiction novel written in 1896 by Charles Sheldon. It tells the story of a town that is completely transformed when a stranger interrupts a church service one Sunday, questioning whether or not the Christ-followers are actually following Jesus at all. He calmly inquires:
I was wondering… if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said: ‘Follow Me’? The minister said… it is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps, and he said the steps are ‘obedience, faith, love, and imitation.’ But I did not hear him tell you just what he meant that to mean, especially the last step. What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus… What do you mean when you sing, ‘I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way?’ Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves and trying to save lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did?… It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps?
In His Steps, p.8-9
After pondering the stranger’s words, the minister discovers his entire concept of discipleship is in disarray. The next Sunday, he stands before his congregation and issues a challenge: Who will commit for one whole year to do nothing without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” and responding in obedience, regardless of the cost? The goal is not to judge anyone else’s interpretation, but simply to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what Jesus would have you do in your current situation.
The rest of the book unveils the difference it makes in people’s lives, both individually and collectively, when Christ’s followers live in obedience to the Master instead of by conforming to the world.
I pulled that same, worn copy out earlier this month and read it again. It challenged and inspired me just as much now as when I first read it thirty years ago! Since we are in Lent, a season of surrender and preparation leading up to Easter, and since many of you seem to be intrigued by my journey of allowing God to “transform” me this year, I have decided to issue a 31Day Discipleship Challenge for the month of March. If you desire to truly follow Jesus in a transformational way, this challenge is for you!
As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While I continue to use Romans 12:1-2 as my theme verse for 2021, for the purpose of this challenge, I want to focus on a different verse:
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)
Jesus is giving us the formula for discipleship: Deny yourself, Take up your cross, Follow in my steps.
Obviously, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Jesus’ path led through great suffering and self-sacrifice, so it can be assumed ours will include similar elements. However, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (the Presence of God within us!) to be our guide and strength. We don’t have to try to figure it all out on our own! He promises to help us. We have everything we need!
So here’s the challenge.
For the next 31 days, I challenge you to spend time with the LORD every day (preferably first thing in the morning, but whatever works best for you) and ask Him these questions:
1. DENY YOURSELF
In what ways/areas do I need to deny myself?
Another way of asking this is what do I want to do or have that I need to surrender to You instead?
What are you asking me to give up that will cost me something?
What am I afraid to give up?
2. TAKE UP YOUR CROSS
What is the “cross” I need to take up?
What do I not want to do, but need to?
What am I afraid of?
How are you calling me to suffer or sacrifice for You?
3. FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS
How are you asking/calling me to follow you?
Where do I see or sense You at work, and how can I join You?
What is one step I can take towards You TODAY?
I encourage you to write down your answers everyday. If you are not a journaling person, you might want to just do bullet points under each topic. At first, simply write down whatever thoughts come to mind and see if there are any patterns that emerge.
Then spend some time on this, truly listening for the Father’s voice. You might know instantly what next step God is calling you to; perhaps this exercise will give you the courage to move forward in obedience. Or you may not have any idea what you need to surrender or where He wants to take you, and that’s okay!
It is my prayer that praying this Scripture every day will open your eyes to seeing Jesus in a much deeper, more personal way.
James promises us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8, ESV) If you long for God to transform your life, your heart, your marriage, your finances, etc. into all He designed them to be, draw near to Him! He will meet you where you are and walk with you from there.
Can you imagine the difference it would make in this world if all who claim to follow Jesus actually did? If honoring Christ with our thoughts, words, and actions became more important to us than feeling comfortable, making money, or being accepted?
Let’s find out together! Who’s in?
If you’re up for the challenge, please comment below or send me a message. I’d love to walk this journey beside you and have a front row seat to what God is going to do!
Also, if you have a minute, check out these other “Challenge”-related blog posts from some of my friends:
We are two days into the New Year, and I find myself needing to wrap up 2020 somehow. I wish I could put a great big bow on it, but it wasn’t exactly that kind of year. Still, there was a lot of joy and a lot of growth, and I don’t want to accidentally leave those gifts behind.
I have never been one to choose a “word for the year” like so many others do, but last year a word chose me. I don’t even remember how it happened. I just know that as I prayed about whether or not I should consider choosing a word, God began to whisper the same word over and over to my heart.
He whispered it in other places, too— songs on the radio, conversations with friends, in the pages of my devotional reading. Again and again the word appeared…. Embrace.
Immediately, it resonated with me, likely because I was filled with so much dread for 2020. Our oldest daughter was graduating from high school, and I was dreading all the “lasts”: her last show, her last prom, her graduation. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine driving her six and a half hours away to college and leaving her there without us!
But God was telling me to EMBRACE those things, to soak them in and find joy instead of dread.
So I learned to EMBRACE THE MOMENTS.
I prayed for time to slow down (and, boy, did it!). When the quarantine began, we were suddenly all home together, and I was prepared to embrace every moment. We baked cookies and made scones and watched movies together. We went on family hikes and made more cookies. We created videos and completed schoolwork and yes, we made more cookies. And we ate them. All.
When Sarah’s Senior girls trip to Texas was cancelled, we went to the beach and swam with dolphins instead. When she missed our family Disney trip due to a Covid exposure, we snuck back down to the Mouse House for a couple days after Thanksgiving (yay for annual passes!). When yet another direct exposure ruined our Christmas day plans, we waved sadly to the grandparents and then embraced the moment, choosing to make a fun memory instead (it had something to do with chinese food and a crispy duck, but that’s a story for another day!).
And when Jeff and I dropped her off at college and I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, I embraced all the things I was grateful for— that she was still able to be on campus with Covid, that she was making new friends and thriving, that she missed her crazy family after all…
So I am grateful that God prepared me to embrace each of those moments. However, my word ended up applying to so much more than just Sarah! The Lord had many other lessons for me to EMBRACE.
When the world shut down, life changed drastically in our home. We went from everyone going in different directions every evening to having dinner (and lunch… and breakfast… and dessert!) together at home every day. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months.
I learned to EMBRACE REST.
There were so many projects I could have done around the house. There were closets and cabinets and a basement full of stuff calling my name. But my soul needed something different— rest.
And so, contrary to my normal nature, I embraced it. I left the clutter where it was and curled up in a chair with a book. I snuggled on the couch with the kids and watched movies. I laced up my sneakers and took long walks. And I spent extended time talking and listening to my Father
The strangest thing happened, y’all— my soul began to breathe. It was as if I had been on a ventilator for a very long time, maybe years, and was suddenly beginning to breathe on my own again. It was shallow at first; uneven, gasping, gulps of air followed by periods of holding my breath; but eventually, as I embraced my new normal, it began to settle into a more consistent rhythm.
I also learned to EMBRACE WRITING.
I have always found clarity through writing my thoughts. Stacks and stacks of prayer journals line my bookshelves. There are even a few (hilarious!) middle school “diaries” thrown in the mix. I have written hundreds of letters to friends over the years, and I have a folder of (mostly embarrassing) poetry hidden in my closet that will hopefully never be read by other humans!
But around Thanksgiving last year, God began to stir in my heart the urge to write more consistently… and to share my words.
There is something extremely vulnerable about sharing my words with others. I want them to be real, not contrived or impersonal. I want them to touch people, to inspire and encourage and help those who read them. And if I’m honest, I want people to like them (stupid pride). But mostly, I want them to draw people’s hearts to Jesus, just as He draws my own heart to Him.
And I don’t often know how to do that.
But suddenly I had nothing else to do except EMBRACE what God was calling me to do. So I wrote about a lot of random things, praying God would use them. I published things faithfully on my blog, even though I had no idea if anyone was reading it. I joined hope*writers and began to learn about the discipline of writing, the craft of storytelling, and the machine that is involved if one ever hopes to publish: building a brand, a platform, a social media following, an email list, etc.
It still overwhelms me! But through the process…
I have learned to EMBRACE GROWTH.
I have tried new things and failed. I have written pieces and cringed after I published them. With the help of some friends, I designed a totally new website— that I still haven’t launched. I even submitted two articles for publication, both of which were rejected. But I did it!
(And I was actually just featured as a guest blogger on a fellow hope*writer’s blog, so that’s fun! You can read that article here.)
Overall, I have learned so much. I have even been able to share some of it with others, and it is all a result of embracing something new, of not being afraid to try.
Above all else, I have EMBRACED JESUS.
This year has given me the gift of time and space to just be with Jesus. I have had the freedom to study the Word; to read deep, reflective books; to pour out my heart to my Father; and to sit at His feet and listen. He has convicted and encouraged me, and faithfully been present. I have asked Him for answers and direction, and He has repeatedly reminded me to open my hands and trust Him. So I embrace His goodness, his faithfulness, His love; and I place myself in His hands, like clay in the hands of the Potter. Have your way with me, Lord!
Looking back, it’s funny to think of 2020 as a year to be embraced. Yet, that is exactly what God asked me to do, and I am so grateful. Think of all I would have missed out on if I had stayed focused on what I was losing and if the world had not shut down!
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” —Romans 8:28 (NLT)
God has given me a new word for 2021 (I’ll share it here soon!), but I intend to continue embracing whatever He places before me, and I pray you will as well!
It’s been nearly four months since we drove to Virginia to move Sarah in for her Freshman year of college.
We spent most of the summer preparing for this new adventure. It seems so long ago now.
Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of preparation. After all, as the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Life can quickly become overwhelming, so being organized and planning ahead helps me avoid crisis situations. I knew Sarah going to college was going to be a big transition for all of us, and as with any new experience, I wanted her to be prepared.
So we started making lists.
We had a list for her dorm room, a list for her bathroom, a list for emergencies— I may even have had a list of all our lists!
When move-in day finally came, we loaded up the car, survived the tearful goodbyes with her siblings, and drove six and a half hours to her new home. We organized her closet and lofted her bed. We decorated her walls and set up her desk. Even with all our lists, Jeff had to run to the store to buy extra command hooks and a coffee cart for her Keurig. But when the day was done, her new home was ready, and there was only one thing left to do.
As we sat down for dinner munching on a bowl of chips and salsa, the three of us began to realize that the hard part was only beginning. By the time the waiter brought our food, we just sat and stared at it… we couldn’t even eat. The dread of what was waiting on the other side of that meal completely eradicated our appetite.
Before we knew it, the bill was paid, and the time came for us to say goodbye to our girl.
We hugged. Then we cried. Then we hugged and cried some more. And we dispensed every piece of parental advice we could possibly think of:
Don’t walk anywhere alone at night.
Make sure you take your vitamins and drink enough water.
Call us if you need more clothes.
Don’t forget you have a COVID emergency bag in the top of your closet!
And on and on and on…
(It’s amazing how much you realize you never told your child when it is suddenly time for them to survive on their own!)
Finally, we gave her one last squeeze and watched her drive away.
To her new home.
“What in the world are we doing?” Jeff asked, as her taillights disappeared from sight. The two of us were a sobbing mess.
And that is when I realized our mistake.
We had made all the lists, followed all the advice, and bought all the things so she would be prepared for her new adventure.
But there was one thing we had failed to prepare:
Friends, as we approach the Christmas season, how are you preparing your heart?
I love Christmas like the next girl, but I’m not going to lie- I can easily get overwhelmed with ALL THE THINGS.
Cookie swaps and class parties.
Teacher gifts and family gatherings.
Stockings and garland and Christmas lights. (Oh my!)
On top of all that, or maybe hidden underneath, is the meaning of what we’re celebrating. And if I’m honest, as much as I love baby Jesus, He often gets left in the manger while I’m busy trying to do everything else. So I’ve learned that when it comes to the holidays, preparing my heart is so important.
In Luke 10, we read the story of two sisters who opened their home to Jesus. Apparently, they were not expecting Him, because Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (v. 40, NIV) While she was busy sweeping the floor and kneading the dough and doing all the things, Mary was content to sit at Jesus’ feet.
Yet, when Martha complains to Jesus, he doesn’t jump to her defense. He shows compassion for her predicament, but He affirms Mary’s priorities.
This used to bother me. If preparation is so important, shouldn’t Jesus have encouraged Mary to help Martha? Surely the One who washed His friends’ feet understands the value of serving others!
So I knew there must be a deeper lesson.
I think the point Jesus was trying to make is that while physical preparation is important, spiritual preparation is imminently more valuable.
While Martha was surprised by Jesus’ visit, we are not. As Christmas approaches, we know it is coming.
We know Jesus was born in a stable because no one had prepared room for Him in the Inn.
We know the wise men eventually found Him because they were prepared to follow the star.
And we know a teenage girl was chosen because she was prepared to be obedient, whatever the cost.
Intentional planning and hard work today pave the way for peace and rest later. Preparing in advance enables me to be fully present, and allows me to focus on what is most important. Yet so often, I focus on getting things ready on the outside, forgetting the inside altogether.
So, friends, as we make our shopping lists and stock the freezer with cookie dough, let’s also take time to sit at the Master’s feet.
To hear His voice.
To gaze in wonder at the One who changed everything!
I have some really fun things planned for the blog this month, and I am hoping some of them will help you prepare in different ways. One of my greatest blessings during the pandemic was the opportunity to join a hope*circle of writing friends from various backgrounds, life stages, and parts of the country (and one Canadian!).
Sharing everything from devotions to recipes, these sweet friends are going to guest post for me this month, and I am super excited to introduce them to you! I think you’re going to love them! (I do!)
I hope you will take time to read their contributions and glean from their experiences.
It is my prayer that you will find a few things here on the blog this month that help you with the oh-so-important task of preparing your heart for Christmas this year!
October is the month of masks. Superheroes or villains, scary or silly, our masks are on display for all to see!
2020 has brought new meaning to mask-wearing, for sure. But normally we reserve our masks for Halloween. At least on the outside…
However, if we’re honest, you and I wear masks all the time. We pretend to be someone we’re not so people will like us. We pretend to be better than we are so people won’t hate us. We wear some masks to impress, and other masks to hide the truth. And sometimes we wear a mask to disguise the fact that we have no idea who we really are!
We’ve gotten so good at wearing masks, we often forget they are there.
But there is One who sees behind the mask into all our hidden places. He is not fooled by our pretense or distracted by our deceptions. He is not afraid of our secrets or impressed by our facade. Nothing is hidden from Him; and still, He loves us just the same.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” -2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NIV)
We may fool other people with our masks; we may even fool ourselves for awhile. But if we truly want to grow, we must allow God to pull back our masks. We must be willing to reveal our hearts to Him~ our fears, our secrets, our hopes, our shame.
Those hidden dreams. That secret sin. That part of you you’re sure no one could love. Those old regrets that continue to resurface. The fear and insecurity you try so hard to hide.
Only when we have “unveiled faces” can God begin to transform us into His image. When we allow His Holy Spirit to remove our masks, He reveals Truth to us, and we begin to experience true freedom~ not the feelings-based “freedom” the world offers, but the true freedom of surrendering to His holiness.
Are you eagerly awaiting the day when we can go to church and the grocery store without having to hide behind a mask? I know I am!
May my heart be so eager to leave its masks behind as well.
“My kids just watched our front running Presidential candidates behave in a way that is worse than behavior they themselves have lost phones and been grounded for. Awesome.”
This was posted by a friend of mine following the first Presidential debate of 2020. Whichever direction you lean, I believe we can all agree that debate was a train wreck!
Regardless of the reasons, neither candidate represented themselves in a manner worthy of the highest office of this nation. I can’t count the number of times I have told my kids that our choices are not dependent on other people’s actions. If our Presidential candidates were our children, we would have taken away their microphones and sent them to bed without supper!
Alas, that is not the case.
From my last blog post, you know I firmly believe in viewing challenges as teachable moments. Unfortunately—or fortunately— this election year is turning out to be a perfect opportunity to do just that.
I admit… it is a bit of a struggle. I find myself tempted to focus on:
The lack of integrity in our candidates
The division in America
The role of media bias & “fake news” from every side
Our tendency to choose “sides” and be “against” something
How mean and rude people can be to one another on social media regarding political issues and current events
The desire to throw something at the TV and stay home on election day!
However, I’m not sure those topics would be the most beneficial to my kids. As easy as it is, it’s not enough to complain to our children about politics. No, how we talk about the election with our kids matters.
This is one of those times I am reminding myself I have the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective and use the current situation to create constructive conversation.
Here are some revised talking points I came up with based on the frustrations I listed above:
Why we should vote for policy/platform and not a person. While it would be nice for our president to be an outstanding role model for future generations, unfortunately that is not often the case. Let’s be real— most of our leaders have had closets full of immorality and shameful behaviors… they just didn’t put them on display quite like our current candidates. In any case, one of the beautiful things about our government system is that it is designed so that the President’s personal power is limited. His or her main impact comes through the people he/she appoints. The President’s cabinet is made up of the heads of various departments. These are the people who oversee the areas that directly affect us as Americans—transportation, education, national security, etc. The President also nominates Supreme Court Justices, should an opening occur. The Supreme Court verdicts often have widespread implications and, subsequently, guide the morals of our nation. Thus, the people a President appoints generally play a much greater role in directing our nation than the President himself/herself. This is so important for our children (and us) to understand!
While America seems very divided, there are large areas of common ground in the middle. In many cases, most Americans actually want the same thing, but see different ways of achieving it. Do you listen and communicate better with someone if you realize you mostly want the same things?
“I saw it on the internet (or TV or TikTok), so it must be true!” The reality is our kids DO tend to internalize what they watch and listen to, and so do we. And the more we trust our source, the more blindly we accept it. Unfortunately, NONE of our current news sources report anything objectively without bias. We are fooling ourselves if we think there is any source without an agenda. This is a GREAT opportunity to talk to our kids (and ourselves!) about the importance of implementing critical thinking skills. What does that look like? How do we pursue truth (even at the expense of our own opinions)? How do we recognize bias in a story? How can we tell when we are being manipulated? How do we check the validity of a source or a story? How do we research counter-arguments to make sure we have a more accurate perspective instead of just choosing articles that support our opinions? These are all great questions to walk through with our kids.
In this election more than any other, people are talking about their desire to vote “against” someone or something. As Christ-followers, there are obviously things we should stand up against. But mostly, I want my kids to be known for what (and who) they stand FOR. Do our children know what we believe in and why it matters to us, not just what we stand against?
This election season is the first time I have ever used Facebook’s “Snooze for 30 days” feature. I realize we all have personal experiences, which create strong emotions, and Satan is having a field day with that! But somewhere along the way, some of us have forgotten about human decency. Seriously, y’all—if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all! However, this also creates a great opportunity to discuss the importance of listening with an open mind, sharing your words where they will have the best return, stepping away from the noise when you need to, and recognizing that POSTING about something is not the same thing as DOING something.
And yes, when I want to throw something at the TV, I remind myself of the privilege it is to have a voice in our elected officials and the responsibility that comes with it. Do our kids understand how this process works, how it is purposely different from other countries, and why that matters? Even at our worst, the ideals we stand for and our methods of maintaining them have tremendous value, and our kids need to know that. Otherwise, they will eventually forfeit those freedoms, and by the time they realize what they have lost, it will be too late. “History repeats itself” is a real thing.
Beyond that, the question I have been asking myself is what do our kids need to know specifically about how Jeff and I determine who to vote for? Basically, it comes down to two things: What matters to us and why.
WHAT MATTERS TO US AND WHY
1. KNOW YOUR WHAT
This is where our worldview comes into play. As Christ followers, we focus on what the Bible says. God gets to determine what is most important to us, not us. Our job is to critically think, pray, and determine which platform (not person) we believe lines up most with Biblical objectives and will do the most good for the most people.
2. KNOW YOUR WHY
“Because I don’t like the other candidate” is not a good enough reason to vote for someone. The privilege of voting comes with great responsibility, and we must take that seriously. Even with all our faults, the freedoms we enjoy in this country cannot be taken for granted. We cannot be led by the crowd in matters this important! Just because some person with a microphone says this candidate is going to help someone doesn’t mean they actually will. We must look deeper to understand WHY a person or platform is more worthy than the other of our vote.
IMPORTANT VALUES FOR OUR FAMILY
Some of you have asked me to share some of the Biblical values that are important to our family, so here are a few. Yours may be different, and that’s okay! Or yours may be similar, but you may have a different perspective on how to best achieve those values. That’s okay, too! Diversity of thought can actually make us better—but only if we learn how to listen, compromise, and work together for the greater good. (Can you tell I’m an Enneagram 9? Lol!)
The freedom to worship God and to share our faith with others
The value of all human life, as every person, of every color, from the point of conception, is created in God’s image
The pursuit of Biblical integrity and character traits such as personal responsibility, wise stewardship, hard work, generosity, and caring for those who cannot care for themselves
The limited role of government—what it is intended to do in our lives and in our country, and what it is not intended to do.
National security—not just for our own safety, but also for what it means for the protection and provision of liberty around the world.
There are many other things that matter to us, obviously, but these are a good place to start. Whatever your values are, I encourage you to make sure you discuss them with your children. Teens and young adults are particularly impressionable, and the world will share its values with them whether we like it or not. I continue to see more and more thoughtful, compassionate students embracing what they believe to be enlightened, revolutionary thinking, when in actuality, they are being manipulated with biased information and merely following a trend.
PASSING ON OUR VALUES
Parents, please don’t forfeit the responsibility you have been given to pass on Biblical values to your children. Don’t assume they know your “what” or understand your “why” without explanation. Embrace the craziness of this next week as a teachable moment to discuss why voting matters, why you vote the way you do, and how the Bible influences (or in our case, determines) your choices.
And remind them that, above all, our hope lies in Jesus, not a political candidate. Whoever wins this election will do so under God’s sovereignty. We will pray and remain faithful, regardless of the outcome, and be grateful for the opportunity to vote again in four years.
“But Christians know that we are not at the mercy of chance. A loving hand, a great wisdom, and an omnipotent power rule our destiny. The government of all is on the mighty shoulders of Christ Himself, who sees all long before it happens. All is intended for our blessing. How different things look to us!”
-Elisabeth Elliot, Secure in the Everlasting Arms
In the words of Horatio Spafford’s famous hymn, we can teach our children to rest in this truth: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
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!
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.
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 noiseall 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.
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.”
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.”
Have you ever heard someone say something and it really stuck with you? It’s as though those words implant themselves in your brain and swirl around for a bit, before finally circling their way down to your heart?
Well, that happened to me this weekend.
The week before the Coronavirus hit the “pause button” on life, several friends posted about a movie that was going to be in theaters for only two nights. It was a documentary about a missionary family who has spent the past 20+ years serving the people of Burma, as well as some additional time bringing food and medical aid to Iraq and Sudan. My friends were raving about the movie, but we were busy preparing for our teen drama production the following week, and I knew there was no way I could see it. Missionary movies are my jam, y’all! To say I was bummed is an understatement.
Fast forward six weeks, and I was thrilled to find out Lifeway was going to live-stream the movie on their Facebook page!
So, on Friday night I put our boys to bed a little early, grabbed a blanket and some tea, and sat down with my computer to watch “Free Burma Rangers.”
If you know me, it is not often that I am speechless, but this movie left me without any words at all. Dave Eubanks has a unique calling from God as a missionary soldier, and he and his family live out every verse in the Bible about laying down your life for others in ways you and I cannot even begin to imagine.
This is not a great movie; It is a powerful movie. It is difficult to watch (definitely not recommended for children), and yet I could not turn away. It is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, all at the same time. You may need some tissues.
And you may never be the same after you watch it.
I don’t want to share any spoilers, so that’s all I’m going to say about it. However, I did want to share a few quotes from the movie that impacted me and have been floating around in my head ever since.
(I actually typed these up in my Notes app as I watched because they hit me so strongly. I tried to dictate them as accurately as possible; any misquoting is completely unintentional and hopefully still conveys the same sentiment.)
1. “Go to the sound of the guns, go to the sound of need, and trust God to show you how to help.”
Wow. Am I the person who runs towards danger and need, or am I the one who runs away from it? Lord, help me trust You enough to run towards it.
2. “Vengeance looks a lot like justice, but it is driven by hate. They both start in the same place- an injustice occurs. However, one response is done in a spirit of love, the other a spirit of hate. It’s not our job to bring vengeance or justice… we are simply to obey Jesus (in a spirit of love).”
Think about that for awhile. When I watched Dave Eubank process this truth (God’s answer to his prayer for what clearly seemed like justice but in reality was vengeance) and then willingly submit, I was floored. Lord, help me listen and obey like that.
3. “Be bold in the things of Jesus and humble in the things of yourself.”
I think I often get this backwards. Lord, change me!
4. “And so I prayed: Lord, what do I do, no matter what it costs?”
And in this moment, what God was asking would cost him everything. Yet, this was his prayer. Lord, help me be that faithful!
5. “When bad things happen, I dare not complain. I believe where there is suffering, God is there. He will show us the way to go.”
This quote was actually from one of Dave’s fellow Burma Rangers, his right-hand man and close friend. Lord, help me have eyes to see You in the midst of suffering. Help me look for You instead of complaining.
6. “Surrendering is saying YES… saying yes to all the good things God wants for you…”
(…even, and especially, when they look different than what you expect).YES!! THIS!!
So often we think of surrendering as giving something up. How willing would we be to loosen our grip and let go if we realized that in saying “no” to ourselves, we are really saying “yes” to God’s best? Lord, help me surrender my desires and say “Yes!” to all you have for me!
This last point is a recurring theme for me lately, so you’ll probably be hearing about it quite a bit. But for now, I wanted to share these thoughts with you and encourage you to watch “Free Burma Rangers” if you get a chance. It is streaming right now HERE for free.
If you watch it, let me know what you think!
What are some movies or quotes that have made an impact on you? I’d love for you to share them!
Friends, we are living in crazy times. Schools are closing in an attempt to contain the coronavirus, fear and cynicism are rampant, and people are hoarding toilet paper… I don’t think any of us ever expected this!
I have read a lot of different perspectives and comments over the last couple weeks, and the words I’ve been noticing are frustrated, frightened, irritated, unnecessary, confused, and afraid, to name a few.
The one thing I haven’t heard anyone say is, “I am so thankful for the coronavirus and the quarantine. I wish time would slow down so we could really enjoy it!”
Nope, I think most people are just ready to get through this uncharted territory and get on with life…
I don’t usually choose a “word for the year.” I’m not sure why; it just hasn’t been something I felt compelled to do.
But this year, a word chose me.
As I prayed over all the changes and transitions this year would hold for our family, especially with Sarah graduating and going off to college, I found myself dreading the days to come. The years we spent homeschooling have created a strong bond within our family, and the thought of this stage of life (having all my baby birds in the nest) ending just makes me sad. I get teary-eyed even thinking about her last show and last prom and graduation. I never would have dreamed it would be so hard to launch a child into adulthood! How I wished I could rewind the clock or at least just slow down time!
So I poured all these things out to the Lord, all my grief and fears and dreading. And as I sat there lamenting the change of this season, the Lord whispered a word to my heart.
Embrace these moments, I heard Him say. Don’t dread them. Savor them, treasure them, immerse yourself in them. For you are right, they will be gone in the blink of an eye, and you don’t want to miss any of it because you are too wrapped up in your own pity party. Lift up your eyes, open your hands, and receive these little gifts of joy. You can’t make time slow down, but you can slow yourself down enough to embrace it.
That word has changed everything for me this year.
I find myself returning to it again and again. I’m not going to lie- there are still tears in this season of “lasts.” But they are joyful tears, the kind that overflow from a full heart, marking these moments as something to be treasured.
And that word- embrace– it shifts my perspective when I start holding on too tightly. It reminds me that all our days and years and moments are known and numbered by One much greater than me. It enables me to rest in His promises and seize the day, leaving the future in His hands.
This word, embrace, has been echoing in my mind these past few days as well.
Obviously, I don’t rejoice in people getting sick or being afraid or missing work. I realize it is a hardship for many, and it has altered everyday life for all of us. People need help with childcare and groceries. Events are being cancelled, and school and worship services are being held online. These are strange days we are living in… I mean, we just delivered a package of toilet paper to some friends, for goodness’ sake! Definitely strange.
Am I really suggesting we should embrace it?
That is exactly what I am suggesting.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Give thanks in all circumstances, not for them…
Sure, our lives are being disrupted. But in the midst of this strange circumstance, what can you be thankful for? Gratitude is the key to embracing.
For me, I am grateful that, just for a little while, time is slowing down. Our hybrid school has transitioned into a more academic, private school model over the past few years, and while there are advantages to that, I have really missed our homeschooling days. Between school, church, drama, small groups, college ministry, sports, Jeff travelling, and the girls working, it is not very often that all six of us are in the same place for very long. It has become difficult for us to even eat dinner together one day a week!
And I miss it.
So, the thought of having all of us under the same roof for a whole week, maybe two, with no outside activities and no place we have to be is like an unexpected gift! As I watch these not-so-little-anymore people growing up before my eyes, I have longed for time to slow down… and now, just for a little while, it has.
For just a few days, we will sit at the table and do school work together, just like we used to. We will look for opportunities to be generous to those in need and share with our neighbors. We will eat home-cooked meals and play board games and watch movies. There are books on my nightstand and cookies ready to go in the oven. And yes, like any good mom, I have several cleaning projects for us to tackle as well!
On a bigger scale, I am not really sure what the next week or two (or more) will look like, or how this epidemic will ultimately affect our country, our world, and perhaps even our family. The reality is, it is way out of our hands and far beyond our control. Dreading it or resenting it will not help anything; it will only rob us of peace.
Instead, I choose joy. I choose gratitude.
I choose to let time slow down, and embrace it.
(And I am happy to bring you some toilet paper if you need it. Just sayin’!)