A Good Story

I love a good story.  I’ve always loved reading and I can remember getting really, really, excited about the next The Babysitters Club book (shout out to you 1990’s).  There’s something about a good story that just draws you in and makes you believe anything and everything is possible.  Good stories don’t all have great writing.  Sometimes the writing is only ok but people will find the story compelling (thus the success of the Twilight series).  But when you combine great writing and a good story you end up with something absolutely amazing.  The book series that immediately pops in my mind is the Song of Fire and Ice series, although lots of people are calling it the Game of Thrones series now since it has been made into a tv show.  Don’t get me wrong I love the show…but the books!  It’s great writing with a great story.  The characters are amazing!  And for me, ultimately that is the sign of a good story.  How interesting, engaging, and dynamic are the characters.  Jamie Lannister is one of those characters.  He seems so evil (his nickname is the Kingslayer…so…not the hero then), so twisted (he is a little too close to his twin sister…if ya catch my drift), and so selfish.  But the more you read the more you begin to see him as something else.  And over time he starts to change and transform.  I haven’t finished the series yet, mostly because neither has the author.  But good stories take time.  I’ll wait.

 

Mom and Me hanging out on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Mom and Me hanging out on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

This picture has a pretty good story behind it.  I guess technically it has a lot of stories because it was taken while I was on a trip to Israel with my bible study group and other people from that church which is also where my parents attend.  So my parents were on this incredible trip with me.  And we learned a lot about a lot of stuff.  And I could tell you about all the jokes and laughs because there tons.  Clearly somebody had said something that made me laugh and giggle in this picture but I don’t remember what it was now.  I don’t even honestly remember taking the picture.  I was jet lagged and had been taken all over Israel where everything is uphill so my memory of picture moments is sketchy at best.  But this is still my favorite picture from our trip.  Not because of where we were or how adorable we look but because it’s me and my mom laughing and hugging.  ‘Cause that wouldn’t have been such a likely picture about a decade ago.  We fought A LOT when I was a teenager.  I was difficult and more than a little crazy and my mom had her own stuff to deal with (like we all do) and we just kept colliding.  I remember the time I told her in one particularly painful phone call that I didn’t believe in Jesus anymore.  She cried.  I was shocked she didn’t already know.  It took work, lots of patience, lots of talking, honesty, and unconditional love (my mom’s particular specialty) but now we are best friends.  I trust her 100% and I love her like crazy.  I didn’t know we would ever be able to be this close or that I would ever think of her as my friend. We share our faith as easily as we share everything else.  I count on her for guidance and support more than any other person on this planet and I am never let down.  Our relationship is such an unexpected gift.  And this picture captures it perfectly- love, fun, and faith.  That’s me and the Tougs (my mom’s awesome nickname).  I think we have a pretty good story.

I have these two great friends who are in youth ministry.  They got married a few years ago after finding each other later in life.  They both have other kids but they are older- in fact they just graduated their youngest daughters from high school.  And they also just found out they are expecting a baby!  We were celebrating this incredible news last weekend when my friend started to talk about his reaction to finding out he is going to be a new dad again at 51 (his wife has given me permission to say she is only 37 😉  Seriously they are one of the cutest couples on the planet).  I thought it was really beautiful.  He said “I lay down to go to sleep at night and all the sudden open my eyes, look at my wife, and am like…we’re pregnant!  It’s crazy!  Who gets to have such an amazing life?  To find her, to share in this amazing, fulfilled life, and to have a baby now?  Who gets something this crazy good?  Who gets a life this good?”

Who get a life this good?  The redeemed.  That’s who.  Those who know they have been bought at a price and brought into the family.  People who are living in the richness of God’s grace.  Life isn’t always perfect or easy (I would imagine a baby will add some new challenges) but it is always blessed.  Every redemption story is a good story.

 

I don’t know what your story is or what you want it to be.  I don’t know what kinds of tragedies, mistakes, and heartaches have been written on your heart.  But I do know it isn’t too late to celebrate a good story.  The redemption that was offered to me is offered to you too.  You don’t have to write another line.  Let the Author and Perfecter of our faith write your story.  God is the ORIGINAL writer and He writes some good stuff.  He writes stories of love, rescue, peace, joy, defying the odds, and so much more.  The Bible isn’t a collection of just random stuff.  It’s the collection of the redemption stories of our faith.  It shows and reminds us of the power of redemption.  Because in the redemption story what was cursed becomes blessed, what was damaged becomes whole, and what was broken becomes beautiful.

 

May you find grace in the redemption of your story.  May you see the ways God is already at work in your life just waiting to bring you back into the family.  And may you find joy in a good, good story.

 

I would love to hear your story of redemption if you would like to share it!  You can email me or post it in the comments.

My Top Five: Priorities, Choices, and God

Standing on the Mt of Olives with Jerusalem behind me!

Standing on the Mt of Olives with Jerusalem behind me!

Hello, again!  I’ve missed you!

I’m just getting back from an amazing two week trip to Israel with some awesome church friends and Jerusalem University College.  I plan on sharing lots of that trip with you guys in the coming days.  I’ve been home for a week and am still trying to process everything we experienced on that trip.  So I’m asking for your patience.  I have pictures to make up for the wait I promise!

Priorities and Choices

Several weeks ago my wonderful and equally crazy roommate and I decided to host a girl’s retreat at our house.  We had about 15 teenage girls staying overnight to talk about all kinds of stuff.  One of the activities we did was to take a sheet covered in words like Family, Choir, Homework, Friends, etc and have them circle 15 things that were the most important to them.  From the 15 we had to narrow that down to just 10 and then 5.  Everybody did this pretty easily.  I think 5 was a bit tricky but everybody pretty much got it done with minimal effort.  But I can’t even explain the amount of anxiety that occurred when I instructed them to narrow their top 5 down to 3.  It’s not an easy task!  It’s not like they were choosing between their favorite kind of candy or favorite movies.  I was asking them to choose between  things like Friends, Family, Education, Faith, and Dating/Marriage.  These are some good and important things!  How in the world do you kick 2 of those things out?  It’s not an easy thing to do.  It took a good 5-10 minutes for everyone to get down to their top 3.  Then we talked about priorities and why it is important for us to make our choices based on what we really value and we can’t do that if we don’t know what we value.  It was good stuff!  I was being an awesome youth director!

Except I’ve been kicking myself for several days now because I realize…I stopped too soon.

It is definitely important to know the things you value most and where you place your priorities.  But what I should have done was push the conversation further and made them get down to just one.  Just one thing that is the  most important thing.  The one thing you will base all your decisions on, the one value you hold most high, your top priority.  Because that conversation looks very different than the one we had.

The sometimes uncomfortable truth

The sometimes uncomfortable truth is that I am guilty of thinking that I can have a top 3 list of interchangeable things.  That somehow friends, family, and faith are all on the same level and I can interchange them as necessary.  Today my priority is family, tomorrow it’s friends, and then on Sunday and Wednesday it’s faith.  But it doesn’t work that way.  God has to be my top priority and my top value and the place I make all my choices from.

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

~Exodus 20: 1-6

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

~Deuteronomy 6: 5

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.

~Matthew 22: 36-38

The Greatest and First

God doesn’t want to be in our top 5 priorities or our top 3.  He wants to be number 1.  He wants to be Greatest and First in our lives.  And that isn’t an easy thing to always understand or live out in a world which tells us that we need A LOT of different things.  Our culture tells us that we need to pursue the American dream of a spouse, 2.5 kids, a nice house in a nice neighborhood, a job we like and that pays us a good amount.  We need the right stuff.  We need the right family.  We need the right friends.  But all we need is to make God the Greatest and First thing our lives.  And I’m more and more convinced as I study and pray during this Lenten season that that means looking at some uncomfortable truths about the way I’ve been living and making some changes.  It means making myself uncomfortable as I step into situations and callings that aren’t normal or easy for me.  It means making some people I love uncomfortable as I tell them no so that I can tell God yes.  It means moving forward in faith even when I don’t know what it might cost me.  But the most beautiful thing God has taught me is that when I trust and when I put Him first I find my life to be more full and my soul overflowing with gratitude.

New priorities and New choices

I wish I had had that conversation with those teenage girls.  I see every week how over-scheduled and over-extended they are with school, activities, and family obligations.  Luckily for all of us we serve a God who is really good at making something beautiful out of our less than perfect efforts.  I know I’ll get lots more chances…here’s hoping this is one of them.  Maybe you, like me, need to hear that it’s good and right to pursue the different talents and gifts you have but don’t place them in front of the One who gave you those talents and gifts.  Maybe you, like me, need to hear that it’s good and right to love and care for your family and friends but don’t forsake your Heavenly Father.

My prayer is that we will be able to spend this Lent in prayerful reflection and evaluation of our priorities and our choices.  May we find the faith to put God has our number one priority even, and especially, when it doesn’t fit in with what others may think we need to focus on.  May we choose to follow God with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole being today and every day.  And may we find the joy and peace that comes from making God our Greatest and First love.

Blessed Stress

As I write this I am a ball of nerves (what a fun expression for such a terrible feeling!).  I am anxious, worried, and apprehensive.  I have to get up in less than 5 hours but am I sleeping…nope.  Can’t quite get calm enough to get real sleep. I’ve been fretting and worrying for weeks now…months really.  Why?  What impending doom is keeping me awake at night?

I’m going on a once-in-a-lifetime awesome trip to the Holy Land with my parents and a bunch of the most wonderful people from my “home” church.

That’s right I’m worked up about an exciting trip.

I know it sounds crazy.  Believe me I’m very familiar with sounding crazy.  I know what crazy sounds like.  It’s taken me a long time to really figure out why I’m so anxious.  In fact it took a conversation with my sister (she’s so awesome) and a very direct question.  The question was “It’s not like you really think that something bad is going to happen is it?”

And the answer is no.  No I don’t think anything bad is going to happen.  But it feels like so much good has happened that I don’t deserve it.  Surely something must be wrong for me to, not only go on this trip with these people I love, but to have all the blessings in my life that I have been given.  It’s been an amazing week full of such amazing moments.  But I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I don’t think I deserve good things.

I’ve made some awful choices in my life and hurt people I love.  I still hurt people I love, albeit it unintentionally now.  I’m selfish and slow.  I’m an epic procrastinator and a good liar.  I’m quick to judge and slow to forgive.  I know the weight of my sin and I know that even though I have also done good things those don’t outweigh the bad.

I’m afraid of good things because I fear that in the balance I’ll have to pay for them with more bad things.

But what kind of God would I serve if that was true?  It’s not that God thinks I “deserve” to be blessed.  I cannot earn blessing.  I cannot earn grace.  He just gives it to me.  He wants to give me good things.  He wants to give me good things in abundance!

Do you do this too?  Wait for the bad things to happen?  Live in fear of the next phone call?  Dread when things start going well because you just know they’ll soon end in disaster?

God wants to bless you!  Not in the weird “prayer and prosper” way.  When I say things I’m not talking about stuff.  I’m not convinced God cares about what car we drive or where we live (unless those things are coming between us and Him or us and serving His people).  But I do think God has beautiful experiences and moments for you.  I think He has blessings of opportunities and redemption and healing in parts of your life you thought couldn’t be made whole again.  I think the goodness of God is so much bigger than we can fathom or imagine.

This fear that I am not good enough for the good things God has for me is stealing my joy.  Instead of excitement I have anxiety.  Instead of anticipation I have sleeplessness.

And that has to stop.

I will not let fear rob me of joy.   I will not let the lie that I am cursed and gone astray  be the only voice I can hear.  Because the truth is that I am redeemed.  I was bought at a price and brought back into the family.  I have the protection and favor of my heavenly Father.  Yes, difficult and hard things will happen.  But God will be moving in each and every one of those moments.  He will make those broken things beautiful.  He will make all broken things beautiful.

His goodness is here and is coming.  I will give thanks and praise for the goodness of God, my Father.  I will find joy in being His and find rest in trusting Him.

Love Letters: Faithful Friends

Scripture tells us that it’s not good for us to be alone and my friends make sure that’s never a problem in my life.  Undoubtedly one of the biggest blessings in my life are my friends.  My friends are thoughtful and considerate.  They are kind and compassionate.

They are not perfect people but they are wonderful people who have given me a beautiful community that I am proud and privileged to be part of. 

I have been blessed to be a part of their lives.  We have celebrated marriages, new jobs, new callings, new babies, and so much more together.  And we are constantly inviting more people into our community adding to our joy and celebration.  I didn’t know how amazing it could be to have such wonderful friends and I have to pinch myself that these people let me hang out with them!

Keeping friendships together takes work.  A lot of work.  Finding time to spend together when you have other, super important and necessary, obligations is tough.  Making an effort to check on one another and care for each others emotional and spiritual well-being is tough.  So a lot of times friendships fall away until we are left with mostly acquaintances and those friends we run into from time to time.

But having a community of people who love, support, push, and encourage you makes a huge difference to how you live your life.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

~John 15: 13

I truly don’t know what I would do without my wonderful friends.  They have enriched my life and made me a better person and a better Christian.  I believe more deeply because they have inspired and challenged me.  I have tried new things and thought about old problems in new ways because they have given me encouragement and perspective.

The love of faithful friends brings joy.  I am never alone because I know that no matter what- crisis of faith or crisis of flat tire- I have this community.  And for better or worse they have me.

My friends fill my life with love and I love them.

 

Love Letters: My first love

The first people I ever loved were my parents.  Chances are they are the first people you ever loved too.  I was blessed that my parents were and are people who are worthy of love, respect, and gratitude.  Maybe yours were too.  Maybe they weren’t.

As I’ve gotten older my relationship with my parents has changed a lot and in very unexpected ways.  My mom was 25 when she had me.  I’m 28 now and don’t see kids anywhere near in my future.  So as I look back I see my parents through the lens of what I know it was like in my own head at 25.  How on earth did they make room for a tiny person in the midst of all the head-noise that is your 20’s?  They bought a house, had jobs, managed all those things that I still feel like are overwhelming and all-consuming and they loved me too.  Honestly my memory of being a kid is pretty sketchy.  But I remember the weird and the random.  I remember a day (I think it was a Sunday after church) that my parents took my sister and me for a surprise trip to the rollerskating rink.  I remember going fishing with my dad.  I remember pieces of conversations with my mom where she basically explained life to 5 year old me.  I remember the way she smelled and what it felt like to sit on her lap with my head on her chest.  I remember it so exactly that even now when I need to be comforted it’s that specific feeling that I’m longing for- the feel of being in my mom’s arms.

One of my absolute favorite memories is of a camping trip with my dad and Pawpaw.  I don’t remember when it was or how old I was but I remember the feeling of catching a fish!  I remember being so happy I literally sang about it, which made my Pawpaw laugh and shake his head indulgently.  Apparently that night it rained and poured and Dad was afraid the tent was going to fall down on us, but I don’t remember that.  I never woke up.  I didn’t need to worry about the storm because Dad was holding the tent up over me.

My parents love for me has always been the thing that holds the storms back and the thing that has protected me.   Their love protected, guided, and encouraged me.  It wasn’t a love of always yes or do whatever you want.  It was a love of we want what’s best for you and always do your best.  Their love for me and for others taught me how to love.

My parents love for me and my love for them has shaped me.  My Mom and Dad are, and always will be, my first love.

My love and appreciation for them has changed as I’ve grown to understand more of the sacrifice they have made of their lives in order to raise and love kids.  And even now that my sister and I are grown my parents continue to sacrifice time, energy, and emotion to our well-being.  You never stop being a parent.  What a gift they give us!

Now when I’m with teenagers, especially teenage girls, I find myself wanting to shake them.  Don’t take your mom for granted!  She has things to teach you!  Listen to your dad!  He knows stuff you need to know!

My whole life has been filled with love because of the two people who gave me life.  In those silly and wasteful moments where I think that I’ll never find love I have to stop myself and laugh at my foolishness.  I’ve never had to look for it!  Since the moment my heart started beating I’ve been loved.  My whole life has been formed and guided by the love of Mom and Dad.

My parents fill my life with love and I love them. 

Prequel to the Love Letters

I have  not written a blog since December.  December, y’all.  I’d say I’ve been busy, which is true, but terribly uninteresting since seriously who isn’t busy?  Everyone is busy.  Busyness does not make me a special snowflake.  So I’m back at this writing game.  And to keep me at it consistently for a while, this week I am going to write a new post each day leading up to February 14th.  You know…Valentine’s Day?

As a teenage girl I dreaded this day because I was usually single and even when I was dating someone my expectations were so high it was impossible for me to be pleased (I was real pleasant y’all).  As an adult I know that a lot of my single ladies out there are stressing over it.  There is, of course, the typical cliche of single ladies everywhere wearing their sweat pants and eating ice cream all day trying to drown their single-hood sorrows.  I get it.  Sometimes being single sucks.  Being married looks like it has some challenges too.

But I don’t think Valentine’s Day should just be about the person you are dating or married to.  Valentine’s Day is a day that celebrates love!  And if it doesn’t it should.

So leading up to Valentine’s Day I am writing a new post each day of the many ways love shows up in our lives and how we can celebrate it!  Hope you enjoy!

Why I don’t have a bucket list

bucketlistLast weekend some friends and I were hanging out and one of them asked what was on my bucket list.  If you’re not familiar with a bucket list, it’s a list of things you want to do before you die or ‘kick the bucket’.  Lots of people have them, in fact I even found this website that helps you come up with and track your bucket list.  There was a movie in 2007 about it and, although I haven’t seen the movie, everyone says it was great and I believe them.  I’ve seen lots of people with Pinterest boards dedicated to their bucket list and Tumblr’s with loads of festive memes all describing the bucket list goals.  I love goals and checking things off of lists so normally this would be right up my alley.  In theory, having a bucket list helps you to be more adventurous and take time to enjoy life and not just let it pass you by.  That sounds like a really great idea.  There’s nothing wrong with having a bucket list and I can see some serious advantages to having one.

But I don’t have a bucket list.  And I’m not going to make one.

Yes, there are absolutely things that I want to do in my lifetime.  I want to walk on the Great Wall of China, live in a cabin or cottage, write a book, go shopping in Paris, walk through Rome.  I’d like live somewhere foreign for a while and learn another language.  I’d like to be someone’s wife and someone’s mom.  But if I never do any of it that’s fine with me.  If all I ever do in this life is live alone in the little towns and suburbs of Texas that will  be a very good life.

 I have let go of the notion that life has to look a certain way to be extraordinary.  I think the extraordinary can be masked in very mundane and seemingly ordinary things.  But that isn’t why I don’t have a bucket list.

I think you have to live every day to the fullest and enjoy each moment because each one has something unique and beautiful to offer and show you.  I don’t need a list to remind me to appreciate the wonders of this life.  But that isn’t why I don’t have a bucket list.

I don’t think there is anything more glorious on this earth than the amazing things we will see when we are with God.  I don’t think that there is something so precious on this earth that if I don’t squeeze it in before I die I will have lived an incomplete life.  But that isn’t why I don’t have a bucket list.

I don’t have a bucket list because I’m not running out of time.  I don’t have an expiration date.  My clock is not counting down to zero.  I’m not running out of time.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.

~John 3: 16

Don’t mistake me.  I figure I’ll get old and my body will shut down.  Or that  I’ll get sick.  Or that I’ll get hit by a bus.  Or something else will happen and my heart will stop beating, my lungs will stop filling with air, and my brain will stop firing off neurons.  I’m sure I’ll die.

I just don’t think that’s the end of it.

 But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, you have the consequence of a holy life, and the outcome is eternal life. The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

~Romans 6: 22-23

I believe that I serve a God who conquered sin and death so that we might live forever.  Every moment is precious in life because life is precious.  Because life is full of wonder, joy, beauty, and love.  I don’t think I’ll float around on some fluffy white cloud forever and I’m not waiting to die to start living.  This life is wonderful and beautiful right now and I believe I can be a part of building God’s kingdom on Earth right now.  I believe that God created this world to be good.  I believe that He is going to restore it to all it’s goodness one day.  And I believe I will have all of eternity to see and do all of the good things that God has created for us to do.

I don’t have a bucket list because I’m not going to kick the bucket.  I’m not running out of time.

Finding Peace

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Hello. My name is Becca and sometimes I awful. Seriously, sometimes I am just awful. Example: when I am very hungry, tired, or stressed I will be incredibly rude to anyone who gets in the way of me attempting to fix any of the aforementioned issues. “But, Becca,” I imagine you saying in your nicest, most compassionate voice, “Most people get like that when they are hungry, tired, or stressed.” Sure, sure. But the problem is I’m like that a lot in my head. I am super grateful that people don’t hear the 10 seconds after I hang up the phone with them most days. And I am even worse when I’m just thinking it. I’ve made many a person cry because of my sharp tongue and biting criticism. Honestly, most of the time I am at least thinking something critical. Which is awful.

And I do it more to myself than to anyone else. I am quick to tear my self down, frequently out loud, over the smallest infraction. Didn’t get up right when the alarm went off? Lazy. Forgot to text a student happy birthday? Selfish. Can’t figure out how much to tip the waitress? Stupid. Most days I can recount for you exactly each and every time I didn’t perform in the way that I think is right or acceptable. I am awful to myself.

And it has to stop.

During Advent our youth ministry takes a couple of Sunday nights and writes daily devotionals which we compile and give out to the congregation for them to study during Advent. It’s become a tradition and our gift to the rest of our church family to help us celebrate the season of Advent more fully. The students write them and then I go back and help them edit. And while they are all impressive and special in their own way there was one that caught my special attention this year.

The scripture was about when Mary went to see Elizabeth. I thought that the student would write about sharing your joy at Christmas but she didn’t. Instead she wrote about why it’s important for us not to judge other people and that we must care for one another because we don’t know what burdens and blessings other people are carrying with them.

Elizabeth could have thrown Mary out, called her names, refused to be kind to her. She could have seen Mary’s condition, a pregnant, unmarried teenager, and simply refused to look any further. Instead Elizabeth embraced Mary and got to share in the joy of knowing the Savior was soon to arrive.
It’s so easy to see only what’s on the outside or to see more and simply refuse to care. It’s so much simpler to judge others and cast them aside because then we don’t have to help them carry their burdens. We think if we ignore it then our lives will be easier, more peaceful. But so far that hasn’t been the case. I’ve pushed myself and only struggled more. I’ve pushed others and even pushed them away and still I don’t have peace. Pushing isn’t peaceful. Trying to be something or someone else isn’t peaceful.

But there is peace in loving others, in seeing their hardships and choosing mercy instead of judgement. There is peace in seeing people as part of one big family instead of seeing them as divided us vs. them or me vs. the world.

I’m tired of being awful.

I’m tired of feeling awful. I want to have peace. I want to share peace.

It is not always easy to love yourself and love your neighbor. But it’s what we are called to do by the Prince of Peace. And I think we’ve believed the lie that peace has to look a certain way. That somehow peace looks all calm and serene. That’s how I look when I’m bored-not necessarily peaceful. I think peace can look like a lot of different things. I think maybe peace is not an expression or a look but that it’s a state of contentment and trust. Stop expecting peace to look a certain way- there’s no peace to be found in trying to force something to be a certain way.

The way I’ve been looking for peace isn’t working for me. I’ve been trying to change people or change myself or change my situation for far too long. So I’m going to try something different. I’m going to take a deep breath and let go.
I’m going to cut myself some slack. Do the best I can at the things I am called to do and stop giving myself a hard time when it’s not what I thought it should or would be. And I’m going to assume that everyone else is doing the same, even when they aren’t, and choose to care about more than just what they do; I’ll try to see them for who they are- a child of God. I’m going to let go of my expectations for myself and everyone else and just do the best I can trusting that God is bigger than my shortcomings, doubts, and worries. I’m going to trust that if I care more about the person standing next to me than I do about myself that I will be able to love them and help them carry their burdens. I’m going to be content with right now and leave tomorrow up to the Big Boss. Because Christmas isn’t about us “making peace”. Peace is a gift that we get when we trust and let God come into our messy, sometimes awful lives. Maybe peace isn’t something we find at all. Maybe it’s simply something we accept. Not with a big shout that we’ve discovered it but with a soft sigh because we have shared in it.

I’ll confess that this one was hard for me to write. I’m not sure this is the answer. I’m not even sure this makes a whole lot of sense. I know all too well that I don’t know anything at all. But I know that I’ve never made myself more peaceful. So I’m going to trust that God promised to bring me peace and be content that He is as good as His word.

May your Advent season be one of peace.

10 tips for dealing with stress

Yesterday was not a good day for me.  I was stressed before I even left the house because I had ZERO clean clothes and a very messy kitchen (still do as a matter of fact) and ZERO time to do anything about it.  By the time I got to work I was not in the best frame of mind to work and I got sidetracked till about 10:30am when I found out that I needed to deal with some budgeting issues.  Y’all…I  HATE math (but it is super important).  So I had to struggle through piles of numbers and info that made no sense and try to wrangle it back under control.  Submit a new (lower) budget.  Then staff meeting with no time for lunch in between.  Weekly email newsletter, planning meeting for a new Wednesday night program starting in January, Advent planning…you see where I am going.  I was herding cats all day long and was getting pretty frustrated.  I like to think that I can keep a lot of plates spinning at once but the truth is that I get antsy when I feel like people are stopping me from keeping them all spinning.  Unfortunately for me this is what ministry work really is!  People are going to need my attention while I’m trying to wrestle with budget numbers.  And I need to be able to be, not just ok with that, but accepting and welcoming of that fact.  So I was busy, stressed, and not being a very great minister.  Bummer of a day.

Almost everybody I talk to on any given day, and for any given reason, is dealing with stress and a busy schedule.  It’s just the nature of our culture.  Most of the people I know are juggling all kinds of stressful tasks like crazy work schedules, loads of responsibilities, parenting, and relationships.  All of these things can be super rewarding and satisfying but they can also cause us to have lots of worry and anxiety.

Weeds and thistles will grow for you,
        even as you eat the field’s plants;
 by the sweat of your face you will eat bread—
        until you return to the fertile land,
            since from it you were taken;
            you are soil,
                to the soil you will return.

Genesis 3: 18-19

I had always read this scripture from Genesis about “by the sweat of your face”, where God is explaining the consequences of Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as though God was saying that Adam was always going to have to work hard.  But a couple of years ago I discovered that what the original language actually meant was that Adam would sweat with worry, anxiety, and fear.   Adam was sweating it out.     You know the feeling.  That same panic and anxiety that comes when you are faced with a difficult situation or job.  That fear or worry that you can’t or won’t get it all done or done right and someone will suffer the consequences.  I’m faced with this pretty regularly and in my case it can be pretty dangerous sense stress can lead to some crazy issues for me.  It’s not good for anybody to be dealing with stress regularly.  So, just in time for Hump Day, here are my top 10 tips for dealing with stress and taking care of yourself.

Disclaimer:  I am in no way an expert at any of this.  These are just things I’ve done and do that help me to maintain some mental health.

10)  Go on Youtube for 15 minutes and watch ridiculous videos.  Sometimes what you need is a good laugh.  I highly recommend this video and I know my sister likes this one.

9)  Make your bed.  This may seem like strange advice but I swear it helps.  If you start a crazy day by making your bed you know you’ve at least accomplished one thing that day.  Plus at the end of the day your bed will be a welcome and crazy-free zone, not to mention a monument to your awesome first-thing-in-the-morning achievement!  Seriously, a little bit of cleaning or organization goes a long way to improving your mental health.  If your space is cluttered your brain can register the mess as additional stress.  Just doing one small chore, like making your bed, can go a long way to helping you to feel like you’re gonna make it.

8) Go for a walk outside.  There is something about being outside, even if it’s just for a minute that I find very relaxing.  Walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine are great forms of exercise but there is something about being outdoors that is refreshing for your body and soul.  Exercise is a super important part of a healthy brain.  Do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t make it work, but do your best to get some exercise at least 3 times a week.  If all else fails do some good stretching before you go to bed and right when you wake up.

7)  Get a physical and take vitamins.  Seriously, you need to be taking vitamins.  Not everyone needs a multi-vitamin though.  It depends on your diet and what you’ve got swimming around in your blood stream.  Make an appt for a quick physical with your doctor.  They’ll check your lungs, heart, and do some blood work to make sure you’re doing ok and can give you advice on what kinds of vitamins you should be taking.  I recently went in to my doctor who told me I should start taking a pre-natal vitamin.  I politely explained that I was in no shape or form needing to prepare for the birth of a child and she politely informed me that pre-natals have vitamins in them that my body needs for my health…not just so I can bear children.  I would have never thought about that unless I went to the doctor.  It takes a couple of hours (that includes driving and waiting…it happens get over it) but it makes a big difference.  You’ve got to take care of your body or else you won’t be able to do the things you need and want to do.

6) Eat real food.  There are lots of great and quick options for real food that aren’t frozen, processed, or drive-thru.  I’m the worst about this one because I crave the bad-for-me stuff.  If you are dealing with stress and you eat a bunch of processed, junk food you are going to feel more sluggish.  On the other hand eating a healthy meal will give you a boost both physically and mentally.  It’s worth the extra 20 minutes.  And make sure you drink some water.  This is my standard line whenever someone tells me they are hurt.  Your body is 80% water so make sure you are staying hydrated.  Ryan Gosling told me it’s important.  

5) Talk to somebody you trust.  Maybe that’s a spouse or a friend or a therapist.  I am a huge believer in therapy.  It’s a great to have a 3rd party who is objective and non-judgemental to share your struggles with.  You don’t have to worry that you are over-burdening them either.

4) Get a hobby…that is not related to your job.  My job happens to also be something I’m very passionate about but if it was all I did or talked about 24/7 I would go crazy.  Take up a hobby, any hobby, that will let you clear your mind and relax.  I love to do different kinds of crafts.  But I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to my crafts so I’ve been able to get a lot of satisfaction from it even when it doesn’t come out perfectly.  Maybe your thing is gardening, knitting, collecting stamps, or photography.  I don’t know what makes your little heart skip a beat but find something and do it.  Here’s the thing though:  you won’t always have time to enjoy your hobby.  So find ways to stay connected to it without spending a lot of time on it.  Maybe a book that you could read while you are traveling for work (or an audiobook that you could listen to while you are driving?).  I have a Pinterest board for crafts and when all I have is the 3 minutes I’m left alone in the bathroom (is this an over-share?)  I’ll look at a couple of projects that I want to try when I have a chance.  Google is a beautiful thing.

3)  Get some rest.  I basically don’t sleep in the summer.  From mid-May till September I run on about 4-6 hours of sleep every night…sometimes less.  Even when I can and want to sleep my crazy brain won’t always let me.  And that’s ok.  Yes, sleep should be a priority.  But don’t mentally flog yourself when you can’t get a full 8 hours.  Allow yourself the time to rest, even if that doesn’t mean sleep.  Practice some deep breathing.  Lay down for however long you can in a room with NO TECHNOLOGY.  That means no tv, radio, or noise (maybe white noise is ok but seriously can’t you just be quiet for a while?)  Get comfy, close your eyes, and let your body relax even if your mind doesn’t shut down.  Let your muscles take a break for as long as you can.  You may fall asleep and you may not but either way you will be ok.  And that brings us to…

2)  Give yourself a break…and expect others to do the same.  You are not a superhero even if you play one on tv.  You are going to mess up, forget things, say the wrong thing, look a hot mess, and accidentally insult your boss.  If you are super talented you may do it all at once (I speak from experience, folks).  Cut yourself some slack and let it be ok when you prove to be less than perfect.  I promise the world will still keep spinning even if you forgot something super important.  Almost everything is fixable even if it is a super pain to fix.  And if people are giving you a hard time feel free to let them know that a) you are doing the best you can b) you are sorry that you made the error and c) you would appreciate some support while you are dealing with lots of stress.  If your boss is being a jerk and you can’t say anything to him/her I understand not wanting to sass them about not being supportive.  But that doesn’t mean you have to internalize their negativity.  Acknowledge it and let it go.  You are doing the best you can.  Give yourself a break.

1)  Pray.  This may sound like the Jesus answer but I promise you it is the best thing I do for my mental health. There was a time when my prayer life was more like a Christmas list.  “Dear God, Please give me a good job and a hunky boyfriend (see Ryan Gosling comment earlier).  I swear I’ve been mostly good.”  But I have found that the more often I turn aside to pray, even if it’s just a couple of minutes,  the more peaceful I become.  For me this started by praying the Lord’s Prayer.  The more I paid attention the words of the prayer the more I found that it had the power to refocus and revitalize me.  If I’m praying for God’s will to be done I’m going to have to let go of my death-grip on control.  If I’m praying to forgive others as I’ve been forgiven I’m going to have to start being kinder and more compassionate to people.  And my favorite part of the prayer…Our Father.  Sometimes the only word I can manage to pray is “Father” on a loop.  And somehow just calling on my creator and knowing He hears me is enough to get me through the day.

I hope these tips are helpful for you.  I’d love to hear of any additional tips or tricks you have for staying healthy when you are dealing with stress and busyness!

I didn’t ask for that.

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I remember very vividly the moment I fell in love with my nephew. I was sitting in worship on Sunday morning at the 11am service. We were still finishing up construction so we were in the gym and I was on the far right closest to the kitchen, always a distracting place to sit. It was children’s time and Pastor Pam called all the kiddos up to hear the children’s message. As the kids ran up, some of them laughing and some of them looking pretty nervous about leaving mom and dad behind, I realized that one day in the near future I would see my nephew (or niece we didn’t know yet) run up there. I started thinking about all the wonderful things this new little person would get to try and do and the joy he would bring to every part of our family life. And I cried. Not an ugly cry or anything. Tears of joy.

My nephew was born on May 20, 2013 almost exactly 9 months to the day that my sister and her husband were married. So you see he wasn’t exactly planned. I had the extreme privilege of being on the phone with my sister when she realized she was pregnant and it was both a beautiful and scary moment. Were they ready? This wasn’t the plan. But there was a joy, even in that scary moment of something new and unexpected, that came from the certain knowledge that this was a wonderful surprise. I’ll never forget the first moment I saw him and fell in love with him all over again. He was very unhappy but still so adorable (a quality he retains to this day).

We didn’t know to pray for a miracle like little baby J. We had no way of knowing how to ask for all the blessings he has brought our family. He’s an answer to a prayer none of us knew we had been praying.

There are things in this life that we long for. We pray for them daily, maybe even hourly, asking and pleading with God to hear our prayer and answer it. Sometimes we pray this way for years without ever hearing from the Father. There are people who long for children that never come. People who pray for healing that doesn’t happen. Prayers for relationships that don’t get better and don’t last. We pray for the things we want to see God do in our lives and the lives of those we love. And sometimes it feels like he doesn’t hear us. I have been there and it is agony.

But I have seen the other side of this as well. I have seen God answer prayers I never prayed but would have and should have if only I had known the words.

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.
Romans 8: 26

I don’t know what’s on your heart or even how God is moving in your life. I don’t know what pain you are in because of unanswered prayers. But I know that God is moving in your life. I know that God does hear your prayers. He never sleeps, never drifts far away. Say what you need to say to Him, even if it is how hurt and alone you feel. If you cannot believe that He is near or that He hears you that is ok. I will believe it for you and pray and hope that one day you will know it too.

It is good to serve a God who answers prayers we don’t know we are praying. A God who blesses us in ways we can’t foresee or think to ask for. A God who sees us and loves us. There are things in my life that I want to have or happen. But all I have to do is look at my nephew to remember that His plan is so much better than mine. It may feel scary terrifying or heartbreaking. And yet when I have surrendered and trusted (and yes, waited…sometimes what felt like forever because I am not a patient person) I have found that the blessings that God has for me are so much bigger and better than any that I could have imagined. Those blessings answer the prayer I didn’t know I was praying.

May you see God at work in your life today and may you know the joy of an answer to a prayer you didn’t know you were praying.