Magnolias & Mourning

A week ago today, I was sitting on my parents’ front porch making homemade wreathes made of magnolia leaves with my mom.

While the moment was a nice bit of cool weather craftiness, the heartache we were all feeling could not be ignored.

Saying goodbye to a loved one is never, ever easy.

I sat on the porch floor surrounded by magnolia branches, listening to the kids run around the yard. Each moment made us smile, but tears still inevitably stung behind our eyes.

Realizing life is short is never, ever easy.

I punched a hole through another leaf as I strung it on the metal hoop. Mom arranged another brown leaf to create a contrast against the bright green leaves, and we chatted.

Talking about loss is never, ever easy.

Four to six weeks left turned into almost three months. God showed up.

In the midst of the mourning, I have seen the faithfulness and amazing hand of God. Prayers that sometimes felt like they were hitting a glass ceiling were working in more powerful ways than I could have even asked or imagined.

Seeing God in the midst of pain is never, ever easy.

But while I strung together my wreath, and thought about everything that whirled around in my brain, I remembered that life was never meant to ever be easy, but we don’t have to do it alone.

Because although our family came from all points of the country to gather together to remember and cry and mourn, the key is that we were together. We didn’t have to do any of it alone. We didn’t have to be strong by ourselves because we were strong for each other.

Admitting that I’m not as strong as I think I am is never, ever easy.

But God is
always strong
always faithful
always holding us
always answering prayers.

And while I’m never, ever going to understand it all, God is always and forever going to be there, working when the never evers seem to take over.

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To Be Brave…

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To be brave…

is to follow without doubting

is to push passed the noise of the “I can’ts” and the “it’s too hard.”

To be brave…

is to cling to what is true and let go of the lies that keep grabbing on.

To be brave…

is to know that my timing is always off, but the rhythms of His ways move and flow precisely.

• • •

In April, we took a trip to Nashville, a trip that has become my annual Birthday celebration (no complaints here).

Last year was all about the Country Living Fair (which you can read more about here), but this year, was all about proclaiming a truth that God has been burning in my soul for over a year.

B E   B R A V E

Those two words have become part of my heartbeat. Because for years, although on the exterior I may have appeared to have it all together, I was (and still am) really just a hot mess. And it’s taken me a good almost 3 years to really come to grips with the fact that almost every choice I was making was somehow rooted in fear. Many decisions, big or little, always had fear dangling from them.

But thanks to our amazing God who surrounded me with so many different beautiful souls, and the ultimate truth in His Word, I am walking with my eyes looking at Him.

And He is constantly whispering His sweet song over me:

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be BRAVE and COURAGEOUS. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. {Psalm 27:14}

And so now, the phrase Be Brave will always be before me, and I’ll wait patiently for Him, trusting that the arrows of His truth can pierce through the fear that tries to keep me down.

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A huge thank you to artist and story teller Chipper Harbin for his amazing skills on this.

Sushi Snacks and Satisfaction

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Honestly, sometimes, the book of Ecclesiastes can be kind of depressing and overwhelming to me.

It’s the dance of “here is why life is horrible” and “here is how you can make life better.” There’s a lot of “this’s” and “that’s” that juxtapose together to make a book full of challenge and cut-to-the-chase wisdom. Solomon definitely doesn’t beat around the bush about anything.

Over the past few weeks my eyes have really been opened to the honesty of God’s word. Not that I ever doubted the truth that it holds, but I think I sometimes glazed over the brutal honesty that God shares through each writer and each moment.

And as we’ve been going through a very challenging series at Friendship Church, discovering how to Conquer 2016 and actually get to the root of many of the problems we want to attack at the beginning of each year, my eyes have really been opened to one major thing:

Am I satisfied in this life God has given me?

So, every week, I’ve been reading different verses that coincide with each week’s message, and there’s one particular passage that really caused me to dig deeper, read more context, and really dive in to what was being said.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness. Ecclesiastes 5:10

Now, I’m not about to start talking finances or anything like that. (This goes so much deeper, and that was one of the main objectives during that part of the series.) What really got me on this is how Solomon just tells it like it is.

Love money? You’ll never have enough. Oh, and if you think all your riches will bring satisfaction in your life – wrongo!

And if you keep reading, it gets better. Everything you earn slips through your fingers…everyone leaves this world the way they came, naked and empty-handed.

Awesome.

However, there is much truth and challenge said in Solomon’s words. He’s warning us so that we invest in what is truly worth it.

Remember that juxtaposition I told you about? Here it is in Ecclesiastes 5:18-20:

It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.

To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God.

Wow. Anyone else convicted by that statement? What has been placed in front of me is truly a gift from God.

So, here’s the truth in all of this – try to gain wealth and riches and stuff and approval and anything else that attempts to fill that void of dissatisfaction or tries to feed that hunger for greed, and use that as your only drive and desire in life…yeah, life is gonna suck in the long-term. Sure, it’ll feel great in the moment, but when the high of getting the stuff wears off, you’ll find yourself hungry again. (Just like those sushi veggie rolls I just ate. The rice filled me up for a moment because it expanded in my tummy, but now I’m hungry again.)

The counter to this is this: Embrace what God has given you and enjoy this life (that he desires for us to enjoy by the way), and the fulfillment we’re looking for will naturally flow out of his blessings.

We’ll discover that we’re so busy being satisfied with what God has placed in our lives at that very moment, that we won’t have the time to think about what we could have in the past, present, or future.

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13, emphasis mine

Satisfaction probably isn’t going to happen overnight. It will definitely have to be learned, but through Christ’s strength, contentment is possible.

The Thing About The Bathroom…

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I have a love/hate relationship with cleaning my bathroom.

That being said, since I try to be a positive person, I’ll start with why I love it…
I love cleaning it because it’s so nice to walk into a sparkling, good-smelling bathroom when I’m getting ready in the morning.
I hate cleaning it because I’m reminded just how disgusting we as human beings can be and how much “stuff” we shed when we’re in there.
I love cleaning it because it’s one of the smallest rooms in our house, so naturally it shouldn’t take too long to clean.
However, I hate cleaning it because once I start cleaning one area, every dirty nook and cranny rears it’s ugly head at me and says, “You might as well get the scrub brush, knee pads, and bleach because you’re in here for the long haul.”

Bleh.

Then I got to thinking about it (as I scrubbed and scrubbed the same 5 square inch area for 15 minutes)… Isn’t it funny how cleaning the bathroom is a lot like examining our hearts and minds through the truth of God’s Word?

We go into the bathroom to clean things up or out (…no need for explanation there), and we exit feeling relieved, cleaned up, and refreshed (Ok, I’m done with all of the bathroom analogies).

When we dive into the Word, we dive into it with the desire to learn more about Christ, to become more like Him, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

But that doesn’t happen unless we’re willing to do a little scrubbing, or better yet, allow the Holy Spirit to do a little scrubbing in us.

Sometimes the scrubbing takes a bit of time. We get through one layer of dirt thinking we’re good to go, only to discover there was a hidden corner that we tried to cover up with the bath mat (aka pride). So we bunker down and scrub a little harder. And when it’s all cleaned up, we take a deep breath, thank God for the bruises on our knees, and walk away knowing that it was all worth it.

That fresh aroma is “a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15). We have been washed clean from our guilt and purified from our sin (Psalm 51:2, paraphrased). When we are clean, we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

The scrubbing might hurt a bit. It might take a while to really break through the crud, but in the end, the outcome is far better than what we imagined, and the freedom that follows is worth celebrating.

So friends, let’s get on our knees, open up the Word, and let Jesus do a deep clean to our souls. Because the end product is worth the rough process.

Beyond The Understanding

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“I just don’t understand why this is happening!”

Those were the words that I said over and over again when the branch fell on top of our truck, smashing the windshield and putting a dent in the hood the size of Texas (well maybe not Texas, it was more like Rhode Island).

But it was just one of those moments. After getting off the phone with the insurance company and getting all of those lovely deductible details taken care of, I moved on to cooking dinner. Trying to keep my mind off of what just put a negative dent (pun intended) in our day. I tried not to come unglued and thought of every possible thing I was thankful for in that moment. (Thank you Lysa TerKeurst for that nugget!) And I didn’t. I stayed calm. The hubby and I talked about ways to take care of it financially and we left it at that.

But then came the day after. When I woke up in a funk. With a bad attitude for what appeared to be no reason. The emotions were going, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was it PMS (what woman doesn’t ask that question when she feels moody?) Was it lack of sleep? Was it the 3 year old and the 10 month old pulling at my leg? Was it the grief of losing my Nanny just the week before? Was it the truck incident?

I honestly couldn’t figure it out, so I just stayed in the mood. I pushed it all down. Stayed quiet, and a bit tense, and moved on with the morning.

Until the question was asked, “Are you doing ok?”

Oh, those four words have a way of conjuring up every feeling down in my soul without me even realizing it. I didn’t want to answer. I wanted to play the “I’m fine” card, but I knew it would be the unwise thing to do. So I just let the emotion flow out. Thankfully it came out in tears and not screams, and thankfully, my husband received my words with grace and not condemnation. But oye! It all came out.

And yes, the answer was all of the things mentioned above, but they were all wrapped around one central idea:

I just don’t understand why this is happening!

Have you ever caught yourself saying that exact phrase in the midst of the insanity and uncertainty of life? Things aren’t going smoothly, in fact the road just went from a little rocky to pothole city and you find yourself continually asking, “Why, God, why?”

Why does it all happen at once? Why do hard times come when we’re doing everything we can to sacrifice so much for You?

I know I’m not the only one who asks this. And even if we don’t always ask it out loud, we ask it in our hearts.

Sometimes we just want to be like the Psalmist and have a conversation with God and ask why, and that’s okay.

But other times, it’s straight up doubt, mistrust, lack of faith. Sin.

Yesterday I read a verse that I’ve read a million times. It’s one of those put it on a bookmark, engrave it on a plaque type of verses. You know what I’m talking about. The verses that we’ve heard and read so many times, we just glaze over them.

But I want you to hear what is being said here:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
Proverbs 3:5-6, emphasis mine

Did you catch that second part of verse 5?
“Do not depend on your own understanding.”

We’re down to one car. I don’t understand.
Do not depend on your own understanding.

I can’t get a hold on my emotions. I don’t understand.
Do not depend on your own understanding.

I can’t get my kid under control. I don’t understand.
Do not depend on your own understanding.

Insert your own “________________  just happened. I don’t understand. And it’s the same response.

Do not depend on your own understanding.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. It always leaves a lump in my throat. It’s hard to look beyond our own understanding. It’s hard to not depend on what we tangibly see or feel.

But it’s a good kick to the pants that we need when our emotions are still fumbling around with doubt.

And it was also the truth that God fed me with when the unexpected refund check showed up in the mail and the sweet card and blessing from my parents graced our doorstep.

Do not depend on your own understanding.

When I turned my eyes from my own path, let Him work things out and took my hands off of it, and didn’t depend on my own understanding, His peace came. The answer came. It wasn’t in my timing, which is always so much better anyway.

So the next time a branch falls on your car, or whatever event takes place that shakes up your world, just remember to look beyond the circumstances and…

Do not depend on your own understanding.

Sum It Up In One Word

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It’s March. Wow. When did that happen? With patches of snow still covering the ground, it’s hard to believe that spring is so near. It’s also hard to believe that we’re 3 months into 2014.

As I shared here, this year has been a year of completing what’s been left undone.

The other morning, in between watching my 8 month old roll around on the floor and sipping coffee, I read a post from (in)courage that really helped me wrap one word around what it is that God is doing in my heart.

Follow.

Follow God.
Follow through.
Follow up.

I recognize 2013 was full of goals. Some I met, others I didn’t. So I embraced 2014 with the challenge of following.

Following God wherever he leads me.
Following through on commitments I’ve made.
Following up with relationships that need to go deeper.

It’s wonderful how God does what he does when he’s teaching us truth, especially when we’re really opening our hearts to hear it and see it. Whether it’s a blog post, a late night conversation with my husband, or a message at church, God has shown up.

He’s proved himself faithful. He’s clearly shown himself.

So what’s changed?
It’s not that He wasn’t there before. He’s always been there, proving his faithfulness and love in every moment of my life.

I’m the one who has changed.
And not out of my own strength.
He’s been changing me.
He’s opening my eyes to really see Him.
He’s giving me the strength to push past the moments of human nature when it “felt” easier to focus on the negative.

He’s telling me to follow.
And follow I shall.
Even when I have to follow up hill because I know he’s there to carry me.
Even when it’s into the darkness because I know he is the one who will light my path.
Even when I’m feeling alone because I know he will remind me that He’s always there.

So what is your word? How can you wrap up what God is doing in your life?

Because God Is For Me

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What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Romans 8:31

…be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6

I am my own worst enemy.
A new year has begun, and I’ll confess, I did not complete any of my New Year’s goals from 2013. I’m truly bummed about it because they were all attainable goals.

My normal, natural reaction to this would be to sulk and slump and beat myself up.

In fact, that was my reaction. Until my amazing husband reminded me that I was being too hard on myself and I needed to believe truth.

Because God is for me.

I would rather throw my hands up in the air and never set another goal for myself for the rest of my life.

But God is for me.

And instead of sulking and feeling sorry for myself, I’m looking at what I did complete this year and what I will carry over into this new year and tie up.

Because God is for me.

  • I read 9 of the 13 books on my reading list.
  • I started to finish one of the many quilts on my “to sew” list.
  • I started the A Passion to Serve Bible reading plan and got 47% of the way through it.
  • I learned (and am still learning) that I can’t get my way all the time. Can I get an AMEN on God’s amazing help and grace on that one?
  • I started training for the Indy Mini-Marthon, which was not part of my original list, but happened to jump its way on thanks to this revelation.
  • I started this blog (again not part of the original list), but something my soul desperately needed to do.

So this year…this year will be a year of tying up loose ends. For finishing up what’s been left undone.

My plan is to not start anything new until I’ve followed through with the other stuff. And instead of trying to complete all of this in my own strength, I’m going to rely on God’s strength to guide me through it.

So, here’s to you, New Year. Let’s get started on finishing up a few things.

Need some encouragement and truth spoken over you so you can finished what’s been left undone? I highly encourage you to check out these great resources:
Loose Ends -Pastor Dave Crandall at Friendship Church
What’s Undone? -Beth Moore