An Invitation

It had taken several weeks for me to finish the job completely, and as I heaved my last load of debris into the woods, I couldn’t help, but admire all that I had accomplished. Flowerbeds once blanketed with dead leaves, weeds, and debris were now cleared, and fresh life could be seen poking through the soil. The sight of those new plants got me thinking. With every spring, comes new life, a new start, a new beginning, and just as these plants are given a fresh start each spring, I wondered if perhaps God had been offering us this very same thing these past few weeks? I wondered if perhaps God has presented us with an opportunity for a fresh start? 

For many of us, COVID-19 disrupted what we considered to be “normal” life. It disrupted our routines, our jobs, our finances, our time spent with loved ones, and for some, our sense of security. For many of us, parts of these last few weeks have been really hard. But, as I look back, I can’t help, but see the lessons God may have for us here. Lessons about what a life lived to the full might actually look like. 

First, as I’ve reflected on these last few weeks, one thing I’ve observed is that many of us are spending our time a bit differently now. Think back with me for a moment about how you spent your time prior to COVID-19. What did a typical day look like for you? How did you choose to spend the time God gave you during any given day? For many of us, myself included, our days were spent checking things off of our to-do-list as we raced from one activity to the next. It was our predetermined schedule, a schedule that was often overloaded, that set the pace of each day. And then suddenly, we found ourselves limited in the ways that we could spend our time. For many, during this time of social distancing, time has been spent trying to efficiently work from home. For others, time has been spent supporting  their child’s education. And there are others still, that are spending time balancing the both of these. But aside from work or schooling, how have you spent this time when you were limited in what you could do and how you could do it? 

Do you know what I’ve seen? I’ve seen families spending more time together. I’ve seen families taking long walks and playing outside. I’ve seen families creating art, building forts and holding dance parties in their living rooms. I’ve seen families completing projects, playing games, cooking, and working together to bless others in their community. I’ve seen a coming together of many of our families. Perhaps that was God’s intention through all of this? Perhaps this has been a heavenly invitation to slow the frantic pace of life and evaluate how we are spending our time. Are we intentionally spending our time with those that mean the most to us, and are we doing things that really matter? Are we taking time to have some fun? Are our actions throughout the day making a positive impact on those we love most? Are we living out these moments God has given us to the full?

Something else I’ve observed is how quickly fear can consume an entire people. In the beginning days of this pandemic, I remember fear seizing my heart every single time I read the latest news updates. My fear was rooted in the very basic fact that I knew I had no control over the current circumstances: no control whatsoever. I couldn’t control the fact that the virus was spreading closer to our community. I couldn’t control the fact that many people I loved would be on the front lines of this fight. I couldn’t control the fact that schools shut down, that we were being asked to stay home, and that life as we knew it was turned upside-down in a matter of days.  Every aspect of life felt completely out of my control, and that scared me. Yet, I don’t think I was alone in this. Did you have times when you struggled with fear these last weeks? 

When life feels out of control, it is easy to allow fear to waltz right in and camp out in our hearts, isn’t it? But, perhaps this too was another heavenly invitation? Perhaps this was God’s invitation to be still in His presence and to remember who we are and to Whom we belong. Psalm 100 reminds us to:

“Know and fully recognize with gratitude that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, not we ourselves [and we are His]. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”  

Psalm 100:3 (AMP)

As believers, we belong to Him. We are not only loved, but we are deeply cherished by the all-powerful, Creator of this universe. Paul reminds us in Colossians that:

“It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.”

Colossians 1:16 (VOICE)

When fear of our circumstances or fear of the unknown tries to settle in our hearts, are we taking the time to be still? Are we taking the time to remember who we are and to Whom we belong? Are we walking to the full through this life as Daughters of the King?

And perhaps, this was also an invitation to remember the importance of filtering our circumstances through God’s truth. I shared with you before the importance of taking our thoughts captive and filtering them through God’s Word. We need to be rewriting our negative thought patterns and choosing to believe that God loves us, that He is with us, and that He is always for us. We are in the midst of a battle for our hearts, our minds, and our souls, and the enemy is throwing everything that he’s got into it. Are we facing this battle confident of the One who is fighting for us? Are we believing that the enemy has no power over us? Are we trusting the Word of God to the full?

Something else that I’ve observed is our true and deep need for community.  A friend shared with me last week that she never knew how much of an extrovert she was until we were asked to quarantine. She may very well be more extroverted than she thought, but I think a huge part of it is that she is missing her people. She’s missing being in the same physical spaces of those people with whom she does life. I think many of us are feeling this same way. I think as a people, we are realizing how much we rely on our tribe and we are grieving the loss of that community. We have amazing technology that gives us the ability to keep touch, but the physical separation from those that we are doing life with . . .  that’s been painful. Perhaps, this is a heavenly invitation to remember that we were designed for community. God created us to be in relationship with others, and His desire is for us to do life together. We were created with different gifts, and those gifts are meant to be used for the benefit of others. Perhaps, this is a heavenly invitation to recognize who makes up our tribe and how we support one another. What do you do to love others well? What does loving your tribe to the full, especially during this season of social distancing, look like?

Heavenly invitations . . .  These last weeks, I’ve seen God moving. I’ve seen Him remove distractions, remove our sense of control, remove our complacency. He’s removed the debris to show us the beauty that lies beneath. Sometimes that’s what we need. We need to clear out what is dead and decaying to make way for new growth. We need a stripping away of those things that are holding us back from living the life God has for us. A life that is lived to the full.

This is an invitation. This is a heavenly invitation for a fresh start, a new beginning. God tells us in Isaiah:

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

 Isaiah 43:18-19 (ESV)

Living a life to the full.  It’s standing firm in His truth and in the knowledge of who we are and to Whom we belong. It’s embracing this life we have been given and submitting ourselves to the plans God has for us. It’s making the choice to accept His invitation to step out of what once was and into a new beginning. It’s making the choice to step into the life He has for us. A life that is lived to the full. 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  

John 10:10 (NIV)

MOPS - Invitation

We Need a Shift

 I knew it was coming, but to see it confirmed in the headlines sent my anxiety spiraling once again. My kids had already missed four weeks of school due to COVID-19. Now, our governor was shutting down schools across the state for the remainder of the academic year.  Part of me felt relieved, I must admit. Life seems to be filled with so much uncertainty right now, and it was almost comforting to have one area of life that I knew wouldn’t change in the coming weeks. Yet, at the same time, I couldn’t help, but feel overwhelmed. 

This current season has been so much more complex and challenging than I thought it would be. Complex and challenging to have my three kids home with me each and every day. Now, don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love having my kids home. I’m the mom who looks forward to summer vacation. But, this is different. I have three kids who are now participating in online learning. They’ve done beautifully with it, and I appreciate the technology we have that makes it possible. But, honestly, this mom finds it all a bit overwhelming some days. Three different kids with different assignments, different projects, and very different learning styles. Balancing that and keeping up with my own work has been challenging. 

I also wasn’t prepared for the grief this season has brought. Grief over not being able to spend time with family and friends. Grief over the fact that my kids will be missing out on the fun end of the year school events. Grief over not being able to go to the grocery store and simply being able to find basic items like flour or bread.

My kids are grieving too. They miss their friends. They miss school. They miss interacting with other adults besides mom and dad. They miss being able to go places. They are grieving the fact that we’ve had to step back from “normal” life. Me too.

So, as I try to navigate this season with my family, I’m finding that though I’m doing fine overall, the simplest thing can quickly send me into a spiral of overwhelm. One child complains because we are eating out of the fridge again for dinner – spiral. One child is in tears because she accidentally deleted part of an assignment – spiral. Trying to meet a writing deadline and constantly being interrupted by a child – spiral. Do you see a common theme here? Can you relate to this at all?

In her book, Get Out of Your Head, Jennie Allen says that our emotions are actually a by-product of the way we think. We average about thirty-thousand thoughts in one day, and according to researchers, 70% of those thoughts are negative. How do these negative thoughts impact us? In the book of Proverbs, it says, 

“Guard your heart (mind) above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” 

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Our thoughts affect the decisions we make each day. Those decisions we make determine how we behave, and how we behave affects our relationships with others. Negative thoughts can lead to poor decisions. Poor decisions can lead to poor behavior. Poor behavior can lead us to having a “Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. Is this the type of life we’re after? Are we after a life that is based on just surviving the bad days, or are we after a life where we are thriving and living to the full? Is that type of a life even possible? 

It is possible. It’s possible to interrupt the spiral of emotions we may find ourselves in and shift our thinking.  Jennie says,

“We have bought the lie that we are victims of our thoughts rather than warriors equipped to fight on the front lines of the greatest battle of our generation: the battle for our minds.” – Jennie Allen

“The battle for our minds . . . “  In Corinthians 10, Paul writes, 

“Although we live in the world, we don’t fight our battles with human methods. Our weapons that we fight with aren’t human, but instead they are powered by God for the destruction of fortresses. They destroy arguments, and every defense that is raised up to oppose the knowledge of God. They capture every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (CEB)

As believers, we’ve been given the authority and power from God to take every thought that enters our mind captive and filter it through the truth we find in His Word. You and I have been equipped to destroy the lies that try to dominate our thought patterns. Yet, though we’ve been given the power and authority, we still have to make the choice to use it. We have to choose to shift our thinking. 

So, how do we do this? How do we shift our thinking? First, we need to identify the thoughts that we have allowed to settle comfortably in our brains.

Take a moment and think about an emotion that you have felt recently. For me, it’s “overwhelm”. Maybe you’ve felt fearful, angry, or disappointed. What is something you have been feeling these past few weeks?

Next, ask yourself what factors are contributing to that emotion and why are they causing you to feel that particular way. For me, there are several areas that are contributing to my feelings of overwhelm with kids, work, and COVID-19 being the top three.

If I were to focus on just one at the moment, I’d have to go with COVID-19. Because of COVID-19, schools are closed and my kids are now doing online learning at home. In addition to the normal things I do each day to keep our home running smoothly, I am now also responsible for making sure their learning experiences go smoothly. So far, this has taken up more time than I anticipated, and I feel overwhelmed. Because of COVID-19, we have to practice social distancing. I lead a ministry that is based on relationships and making connections most of which now must happen online. This change from the “normal” way we do things feels overwhelming.  What about you? What factors have been affecting the way you feel and why?

Now that we’ve identified the thoughts that have settled in our brain, it’s time to take these thoughts captive and hold them up against the truth we find in God’s Word. Ask yourself if this thought you have is based on what God says is true or if it’s based on a lie that Satan would have you believe. For example, I’m feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19 because I believe that I’m not strong enough to lead my family through this and lead them well. What does God’s Word tell me, however?

“But the Lord can be trusted to make you strong and protect you from harm.”

 2 Thessalonians 3:3 (CEV)

“The Lord gives strength to those who are weary.” 

Isaiah 40:29 (CEV) 

“Christ gives me the strength to face anything.”  

Philippians 4:13 (CEV)

Jennie says,

“If we want to stop our patterns of toxic thinking, we must notice what’s happening and take action . . . Taking every thought captive is . . . choosing to believe that God is with us, is for us, and loves us even when all hell comes against us.” – Jennie Allen

Taking every thought captive is choosing to take those negative thought patterns within our minds and rewriting them. It’s taking our negative emotions and the reasons behind them and choosing to view them through God’s truth.

For example, instead of focusing on how overwhelmed I feel in the midst of our COVID-19 quarantine, I can choose to rewrite my thought pattern. Instead of thinking: I am overwhelmed and I can’t balance everything that is expected of me, I can rewrite that to say: I am overwhelmed, and I have so much to balance right now, so I will choose to remember that God will never leave me and He will fight for me. Deuteronomy 20 says, 

 “He will say to them, ‘Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!’” 

Deuteronomy 20:3-4 (NLT)

Do you see the difference there? I acknowledged the emotion and the reason behind it, but I also chose to filter it through something I know to be true. If you were to rewrite your thought pattern, what would it say?

Lastly, Jennie reminds us that,

“We need to walk by the Spirit, not be jerked around by our swirling chaotic thoughts.”    – Jennie Allen

To walk by the Spirit is to spend time in His presence. Psalm 46:10 tells us to, 

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Psalm 46:10 (NLT)

The NASB translation says to, “Cease striving . . .” The Street Bible says to, “Shut up . . . Shut off . . . Shut out . . . and in the silence . . . sense God: connect!” To spend time in His presence is to be still, turn our focus completely on Him, and listen. It is in His presence that we shift our thinking. It is in His presence that our minds can be transformed. Romans tells us,  

“Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to Him.” 

Romans 12:2 (CEV)

It is also in His presence that we can experience the peace described in the book of Philippians.

“Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God.  And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].” 

Philippians 4:6-7 (AMP)

Jennie says,

“Shifting our minds from flesh to spirit is an ongoing work of the spiritual life . . . it’s not a one time decision, but a day by day moment by moment choice to move from chaos and confusion toward the peace of Christ in various areas of our thought lives.”                 – Jennie Allen

That is my challenge to you. Move from the chaos and confusion this world offers us and move towards Jesus. Move towards truth. Move towards the peace that only He can provide. 

 

References: 

Allen, Jennie. Get Out of Your Head. Waterbrook. 2020.

Hits Where It Hurts

It was a complete accident, but the significance of the pain was what caught me off guard. I was helping my husband split and stack wood. “Helping” as in, he did the splitting, and I did the stacking. I stood behind the pile of wood assessing my work thus far, and I must admit that it looked a mess. I had been asked to keep the logs as straight as possible, but found as the pile grew, it was taking on more of a pyramid type form. As I calculated my next move, my husband tossed another log to me. It landed on the top of the pile, and its momentum was just enough to knock off another log . . . right into the front of my shin. Now, anytime you get hit in the shin, it hurts significantly. However for me, it hurts twice as bad.

When I was young, I injured my leg as I climbed out of the back of our pickup truck. I sliced it completely open. Open as in, you could see bone, and it required stitches. I don’t remember it hurting much at the time, but since that accident, my leg has been very tender in that one spot. That one spot that a log took aim at today. That one spot where it would hurt most.

And that got me thinking. Isn’t that exactly what Satan tries to do in our lives? Doesn’t he try to hit us where it hurts most? Doesn’t he try and attack us in those areas that we feel most vulnerable?

I shared with my mom tribe this morning that these past few weeks have been more challenging and complex than I imagined they would be. I’ve found that even though I’m doing fine overall, the simplest thing can quickly leave me feeling completely overwhelmed. One child complains because we are eating out of the fridge again for dinner – I feel overwhelmed. One child is in tears because she accidentally deleted part of an assignment – I feel overwhelmed. Trying to meet a writing deadline and constantly being interrupted by a child – I feel overwhelmed. Know what? That’s exactly where Satan wants me to be. But, you know what else? He can’t keep me there. In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us,

“Although we live in the world, we don’t fight our battles with human methods. Our weapons that we fight with aren’t human, but instead they are powered by God for the destruction of fortresses. They destroy arguments, and every defense that is raised up to oppose the knowledge of God. They capture every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (CEB)

As believers, we’ve been given the authority and power from God to take every thought that enters our mind captive and filter it through the truth we find in His Word.  As believers, you and I have been equipped to destroy every single lie that Satan tries to use to bring us down. But, we have to make the choice to use that authority and power. We have to make the choice to tell Satan, “Not today. Today I’m living in the truth of Jesus. You have NO power over me.”

That’s truth right there. If God is for us, then who could ever be against us? Lift your face towards Him and lean into that truth tonight, sweet friend.

 

4383b7dbcf4ee5009968abfd68d14272

The Marshmallow Horror

I didn’t understand where I went wrong. This was not how it was supposed to be.

In preparation for Easter, I decided to make Empty Tomb cookies with my kids. Together, we took the body of Jesus (large marshmallow), covered it with embalming oils and spices (butter, cinnamon, and sugar), wrapped it for burial (crescent roll), and placed it in the tomb (our oven). The recipe assured me that after fifteen minutes, the Jesus marshmallows would have melted within their crescent roll wrappings, and upon removing them from the oven, my kids would discover that Jesus was no longer there. The tomb was empty! He had risen! It was going to be the perfect Easter story illustration!

At the fifteen minute mark, I opened the oven to remove the cookies and was met with a horrific sight. Jesus hadn’t melted. Instead, he had oozed out of his wrappings and left a trail of white streaks all over the cookie sheet. My kids rushed over, took one look at the cookies, and looked up at me with a mixture of confusion and horror. “What happened to Jesus?”

It was an epic Pinterest fail, but it reminded me of a very valuable lesson. Things don’t always go according to the plan. More specifically, things don’t always going according to MY PLAN.

Those Empty Tomb cookies were supposed to be a beautiful illustration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Instead, they looked like a scene from a crime movie. My kids are supposed to be in school right now. Instead, due to COVID-19, we are doing online learning at home. This weekend, my daughter and I were supposed to get away for some girl time. Instead, those plans were canceled as we’ve been asked to practice social distancing.

This isn’t how life was supposed to be right now. . .

Can you relate to that at all?

When life takes a turn towards the unexpected or things aren’t going according to the plan, remember, God is in control. He has a plan and can be trusted with whatever today may bring. Take a deep breath, and rest in that truth today. He’s got this, and He’s got you.

 

4d7809e7b50e093e4cc50637968f7904

 

 

An Invitation

I’ve been studying self-control this morning, and let me tell you, it’s not been your typical feel good study. But, I came across this quote this morning, and it got me thinking.

“Any out-of-control area in our lives, no matter how big or how small, is an open invitation to the enemy.” – Beth Moore

An invitation to wreak havoc in our lives and steal our peace.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like there is a lot in life that seems out-of-control right now. Though I cannot change what is happening around me, I can change how I respond to it. Am I leaning into fear or am I trusting that God’s got this? Am I hiding behind closed doors or am I using this gift of time to encourage others? Am I leaning into the hard parts of this journey or am I leaning into Jesus?

Today, I encourage you to lean into Jesus. He can be trusted with whatever we face. Of that, I am certain.

728af8f4c91cc72e7e8f32a89f00c3f1

Moore, Beth. Living Beyond Yourself, Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit. Nashville. LifeWay Press. 1998.

 

Do Not Disturb

“I’m going to put my phone on do not disturb.” It didn’t take me long to see the wisdom in his words. This past week has been a rollercoaster of emotions for our family, and I know we’re not the only ones. As Covid-19 creeps closer, I’ve been glued to my phone reading the latest news and updates. I’ve spent hours on social media checking out local business closures and updates on which grocery stores in town have stock of the items on my shopping list.  The uncertainty of this time that we are walking through has left me feeling anxious, and every time I feel my phone buzz in my pocket with another notification, another update . . . it only adds to my anxiety. Have you experienced that this past week?

What we took my husband’s advice? What if we set down our phones, turned off our computers, and gave ourselves some do not disturb time? It doesn’t have to be long, maybe just an hour. But, what if we took some time to take some deep breaths and do something we enjoy? Maybe it’s playing outside with our kids or pulling out a board game. Maybe it’s curling up with a good book or taking a nap. Maybe it’s going for a walk by ourselves, soaking in a bubble bath, or calling that friend who we haven’t talked to in ages. What would it look like if we gave ourselves permission to take a deep breath today, to rest, and to do something we enjoy? How might it change our perspective?

 

1448007-TobyMac-Quote-Focusing-on-the-negative-only-makes-a-difficult

The Choice Is Yours to Make

If their eyes weren’t attached to their heads, I’m pretty certain that they would have rolled right onto the floor and across the room. I had just shared with my children that this was the day that they would be learning . . .  how to scrub toilets! Their excitement at the prospect was evident in the eye rolls and groans that they did very little to conceal. Was I excited about teaching them this? To be honest, no. But, with empty days stretching before us, what better time to teach my kids some valuable life skills like scrubbing toilets? And what a better time to pull my family close and just enjoy spending time together?

In Psalm 118, we read:

“This is the day that the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

To rejoice is to take great delight in something. To rejoice is to make the most of each day God gives us. I can’t control the fact that we are homebound at the moment. However, I can control how I choose to see the day before me and how I will use my time. Will I choose to give into my frustration, or will I choose to see this day as a gift God has given me to spend some time with my kids, to teach them new things, and to have some fun together as a family?

Every day, we have a choice. We can choose to give in to our feelings of irritation or fear, or we can choose to rejoice in the day the LORD has given us. What will your choice be today? For me, I think I’ll play a board game with my kids followed by teaching them how to work manure into the soil of our garden beds. Hopefully no one loses an eye.

5f4f89007d4c38ea41349e046d214c0b

 

 

When Fear Takes Hold

3:45 AM. That’s when I first heard my husband stirring, and despite my attempts, I could not fall back asleep. I grabbed my phone and began sifting through the news once again. News that in these past few days has struck fear in my heart. Fear for those I love deeply and fear of what the future might bring. As anxiety began to take hold, I was reminded of  the words of Paul found in Philippians. He said,

 Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One. Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you.” Philippians 4:5-9 (VOICE)

A couple of things stood out to me from these verses. The first is that we are told to keep our gentle nature so that others will know “what it looks like to walk in His footsteps.” Gentleness. I typically view it as showing tenderness or kindness towards others, however, there is more to it than that. In the Greek, gentleness is defined as calmness towards God. It’s completely surrendering to God’s will and way in my life, and trusting that He is in control regardless of what my circumstances may be. It’s letting go of any anxiety I may feel and placing it in His hands. As fear grips my heart, have I surrendered it to Him? Have I been an example of gentleness to those around me?

Secondly, His peace will “stand watch over” my heart and mind. Peace is a gift that only Christ can give. It’s not dependent on circumstances. It’s found by surrendering my thoughts, my control, and my life to Him. It’s trusting that He is working in my life even when I can’t see His hand clearly. As fear grips my heart, am I trusting that He has control?

Be reminded that regardless of what we face, God promises that He will always be there. Always. When fear tries to consume your heart, take a deep breath and remember that God’s got this. You can trust Him.

5aa684c0431ab71cf511097f0d3d9e07

 

 

Life Stole My Fun

  “Taco! Cat! Goat! Cheese! Pizza! Taco! Cat! Goat! Gorilla!” I watched my daughter fall onto the floor in a fit of laughter after her feeble attempt to be the first to bang her fists on her chest like a gorilla and slap a hand on the cards before us. A friend had recommended a new card game for our family, and after just a couple of rounds I had tears in my eyes not to mention a sore belly from laughing so hard. It was a simple card game. Not one that took a lot of time to play or required me to think deeply. It was a simple game played purely for fun. And I have to tell you, it felt so good to laugh hard with the people I love most. I also have to tell you, however, that laughing hard with the people I love most doesn’t happen as often as it once did. The busyness of life tends to leave me feeling hurried and exhausted. The life I’m choosing to live leaves little room for fun. 

Fun. It can be defined as any particular behavior or activity done simply for amusement, enjoyment, or lighthearted pleasure.  And, I must admit that fun is something that rarely makes it onto my daily to-do-list. Most days I get caught up in completing the tasks that I feel are vital for my family’s existence. Tasks like cooking meals, keeping the house tidy, and ensuring that all humans in the home bathe at some point or another.  With only 24 hours in a day, I keep my focus on the work at hand and leave little room to deviate from that. But, in doing so, I forget the importance of fun. 

Michael Rucker, author and entrepreneur, has studied the importance of fun. He says that science suggests there are a couple of reasons why we should have more fun. First, having more fun improves your relationships. When we have fun with another person, it gives us an opportunity to really connect with him or her. That positive connection helps build trust and communication within that relationship.  

Secondly, fun is downright good for us. Having fun has been shown to reduce stress which can have a number of negative effects on our health. By engaging in fun activities, we can counteract some of these negative effects. Lowering our stress levels can help improve our memory and concentration, balance our hormone levels, and help us feel more energetic. 

Fun is also important for our kids. Children learn best through play, and it is vital for a child’s development. Through play, kids become better problem solvers, learn how to get along with others, and learn to think more creatively. As parents, we need to ensure that each day allows ample time for fun and play. But, does that always happen?

In an article entitled, “5 Ways to Be a More Playful Parent” Janet Smith says, “Parents are rushed, stressed and tired—we’re too focused on results and not interested in taking the long way around. So instead we resort to nagging and lecturing, and then anger and punishment—far less effective techniques, according to the experts.” She then goes on to quote Lawrence Cohen, a psychologist and author of the book Playful Parenting. He says, “We need to spend more time joining children where they live, instead of all the time dragging them into our world, which is the world of schedules and chores and planned activities. Those things have to be done, but when they take over our family’s life, what gets shortchanged is play.” As parents, it is vital that our children have ample time for fun and play each day. 

So, what do we do to ensure that fun and play are found in each day? When it comes down to it, it is a choice we have to make. We have to be open to having fun. In her book, Have More Fun,  Mandy Arioto says, “Raising kids is some of the most important work we will do, and it can be some of the most joyful work if we choose to let it be.” So how do we choose fun?

First, we need to change our perspective. If asked to describe motherhood in one word, what would you say? You might say love, fulfilling or awesome. But for many moms, the first words out of their mouths are exhausting, hard, consuming, chaotic or overwhelming. We live in a world that chases after perfection. A world that expects us to mother flawlessly. That’s a lot of pressure isn’t it?  What happens when we are unable to meet the expectations of the world? We begin to lean into comparison, to exhaustion, and the overwhelm. We lean into this idea that motherhood is nothing, but hard. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some days that being a mom is really hard. But, instead of focusing on how hard it can be, what if we chose to focus on how energizing and transformative mothering can be? What if we focused on what we love about being a mom? What if we approached each day determined to make the best of it? What if we approached each day determined to not let the challenges it may bring steal our joy? What if we shifted our perspective and chose to bring fun and lightness to our mothering? How would that change the dynamics in our home?

Secondly we need to choose to enjoy our kids. Many people believe that our first responsibility as a parent is to raise children that will go on to become responsible and productive adults. Though that’s important, Mandy Arioto challenges that thinking. She says, “What if our first responsibility in raising kids is to enjoy them?” 

Think about this with me for a moment. How perceptive do you think our kids really are? I’ve found that my kids pick up on way more than I think they actually do. My oldest for example, can always tell when I’m having a bad day. I typically hide in the bathroom when I need some space, and if I’m in there a shade over five minutes, he’ll come to the door and ask me if I’m feeling ok. I admit that I don’t always respond in the best manner when he does this, but the point is that this kid is not dumb. He’s picked up on the fact that I like to hide in the bathroom when I am feeling frustrated by the day. And, if he can pick up on that, what else does he pick up on? 

Mama, our kids can tell if we enjoy them for the people they are or if we are merely tolerating them. These perceptions that they have go on to shape how they will see themselves for the rest of their lives. Are we enjoying our kids?

Now, don’t get me wrong. My kids are not always enjoyable to parent. I’ve had my fair share of tantrums, talking back, threats of running away, and dealing with a child who is furious that her brother chose to breathe the same air as her around the breakfast table. Mothering isn’t always enjoyable, but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying our kids. Find something that you love about each child and cling to that in those moments when momming is hard.  Also, remember that what is frustrating you as a mom now might frustrate you for the exact opposite reason down the road. An infant that won’t sleep now may later turn into a teen that won’t wake up until 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon. A toddler that clings to you may one day be a teen that doesn’t even want to stand in the same room as you. Surrender any expectations you may have on what your child should be in this current season and focus on what is going right. Enjoy the kid you have right now. 

Thirdly, respond with the unexpected. Mandy Arioto shares how she did this with her teenage son. One morning, she dropped him off at the bus stop. She pulled up to the curb, got out of the car, walked around to the other side and gave her son a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. As she pulled away, a text came to her phone. It said, “Mom, you are invading my personal space.” Now, what would your reaction be if your child sent you that text? Would you be angry, frustrated, or hurt? How would you respond? Mandy chose to respond with the unexpected. She wrote back, “You came out of my personal space. P.S. Moms can hug their kids whenever they want. Xoxo. Have a great day.” By responding in a lighthearted manner rather than in anger, she opened herself up to having a very positive conversation with her son later that day. A conversation that gave her permission to invade his personal space, but to do so in the safety of their home and not in front of his peers.

Responding with the unexpected. It’s making the choice to respond with lightheartedness even when we’re angry, frustrated or have had our feelings hurt. It’s responding in a way that “disarms frustration and changes the script we are expecting to hear.”

Now there are times when it is necessary to sit a child down and have a “Come to Jesus” meeting with him if he has chosen to be rude or disrespectful toward you. However, there are times when an unexpected response can ease tension, help build trust and open the lines of communication with our kids. Responding with the unexpected can be a gift not only to our kids, but ourselves as well. Add some fun and respond with the unexpected. 

Lastly, choose to thrive as a mom. If you want your kids to thrive, they need to see you thrive. Mothering has a way of trying to consume us. We feel that if we can’t do it all or don’t do it all it makes us a bad mom. We give up a girls night out because our youngest wants us there to tuck him into bed. We give up a much needed weekend away with our spouse because the kids will miss us too much, and we don’t want to impose on the grandparents once again. We give up working out at the gym because our toddler cries every single time we drop him off at the provided childcare. We don’t do those things we long to do because we’re afraid that it makes us a bad parent. We should be sacrificing everything for the sake of our kids, right? We only have them for a short period of time and that time needs to be completely devoted to them, right? Wrong. You see there’s a difference between sacrificing and settling. Sacrificing is giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. We sacrifice sleep to feed a newborn through the night. We sacrifice buying that cute bag to buy clothes for kids that never seem to stop growing. We sacrifice time as we sit in parking lots waiting for practice to finish. As moms, we sacrifice a lot for our kids. Settling on the other hand is doing things even when it is not the best thing for you. Settling is skipping the gym because your child cries at the childcare. Settling is missing out on much needed one-on-one time with your spouse because the kids don’t want you to leave for a couple of hours. Settling is choosing to live in a house that you can barely afford and staying at the job you hate to live there. Settling means not taking that class that you’d love to take because your kids will be alone for a few hours on a Saturday. Settling is giving up those things that will help you to thrive. 

Do your kids know what your dreams are? Do they know those things that you are passionate about and that are life-giving to your soul? If they don’t, let me you ask this. How will they learn to chase their dreams if they’ve never seen how that’s done? Mandy says, “When we actively take responsibility for our own flourishing, it spills over onto the people around us. Our kids benefit, our spouses benefit, and we begin to live in more dynamic and energizing ways.” When we choose to thrive, we are choosing to squeeze the absolute best from this life. We are choosing to have fun with the life that we’ve been given. 

Are you choosing to have fun and enjoying the life that God has given you? Do you look for adventure as a family? Is your home one that encourages play and laughter? Do you celebrate all of the big, small, and silly things that life brings your way? Do you make room for the unexpected? Do you choose to have fun? 

Mandy says, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize that the best thing about me was that I was really good at keeping up with email. I want to have more fun now; I want to live with passion and stop taking life so seriously. I want to do crazy awesome things to show people I love them. I want my husband to look forward to falling into bed with me at the end of a long day. I want to make my kids laugh, and I want to start truly experience what it means to be loved by a good God. . . . to remember how much fun life can be.” Me too.

Let’s be women who remember how much fun life can be. Let’s be women that don’t just settle with life, but savor it. Let’s live a life filled with more fun.

 

 

 

References:

Arioto, Mandy. Have More Fun. Zondervan, 2019.

Bongiomo, Laurel. “10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play.” NAEYC. https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/10-things-every-parent-play.  Accessed 2 Mar. 2020. 

Botnick, Vicki. “Learning From Our Kids: Five Ways to Make Parenting More Fun.” Good Therapy. 6 Oct. 2014. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/learning-from-our-kids-5-ways-to-make-parenting-more-fun-1006144. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.

Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/settle-for-sth. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.

Robertson, Carolyn. “Moms Describe Motherhood in Just One Word.” Babycenter. https://www.babycenter.com/609_moms-describe-motherhood-in-just-one-word_20004130.bc. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020. 

Rucker, Michael. “Why You Need More Fun in Your Life According to Science.” Michael Rucker. 11 Dec. 2016. https://michaelrucker.com/having-fun/why-you-need-more-fun-in-your-life/ Accessed 2 Mar. 2020.

Smith, Janet. “5 Ways to Be a More Playful Parent.” Today’s Parent. 2 May 2018. https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/be-a-more-playful-parent/. Accessed 2 Mar. 2020. 

 

You’ve Not Been Given a Spirit of Fear

 If I were to ask you to name something you fear, what would you say? For me, spiders are at the top of the list. When I was young, I had a healthy respect for spiders. We had a ton of them in our dairy barn, and I would catch flies and feed the barn spiders as I did my chores. Sick, I know, but I found it entertaining. However, when I was thirteen, something happened that completely changed my view of spiders and honestly scarred me for life. 

I walked into our basement one day and saw the largest wolf spider I have every seen in my life. Large as in his body, just his body, not including his legs, was probably the size of a water bottle cap. No joke. Now, even though I respected spiders, there was one rule that I always followed. That rule was: there shall be no spiders in the house. So what did I do? I quickly stomped on it with my shoe. Can you guess what happened next? If you guessed that I missed, you’d be wrong. My shoe hit its mark, however, my foot bounced back off of its body as though I had tried to squish it with a feather. (Even as I type those words, I can still feel his body under my foot!) In my panic to end his life, I grabbed the first heavy object I could find as he scurried across the floor. It happened to be a 13-inch black and white tv. I not so gently dropped it onto the spider, pressed down for good measure and then proceeded to run upstairs screaming. Ever since then, I have declared that spiders are no longer friends, but the enemy. An enemy that must be eradicated. Every time I see one, I can feel a scream bubbling up from inside of me as I run for the nearest shoe, vacuum, or better yet, my husband. He is my spider killer. I love him.

Fears. We all have them, and I think that once you became a mom, that list of fears seems to grow, doesn’t it? MOPS conducted a survey a few years ago asking moms what their greatest fears were. The top five responses were: #5 – Moms worry that their child will have a serious illness or disability. #4 – Moms worry that their child won’t fit in socially or will get picked on. #3 – Moms worry that their child will be hurt in an accident. (On a side note, it was once we had kids that I asked my husband for an emergency hammer for my car. If I happened to be in an accident with my kids, I wanted that reassurance that I could possibly get my kids out safely.) #2 – Moms worry that their child will be snatched by a stranger. And the top fear at #1 – Moms worry that they are not enough as a mom, that they’re not capable of being a good mom, or that they have enough money or resources to adequately care for their kids. Fears that moms have. Can you relate to any of these? I know I can. 

We all have something that we fear. In my last post, I shared my fears of being unloved, unworthy, and unseen and how those fears drastically affected my life. Those fears were deeply rooted in my heart and kept me from living the life God had for me. And, I think that holds true for most of us. I think most of us have fears that are deeply rooted in our hearts, holding us captive, and preventing us from moving forward in the life God has for us.

Fear is defined as an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. Danger that is real or even imagined. When we perceive that we are being threatened, our body responds by releasing chemicals into the brain that tell our heart, blood, and muscles  to be on the alert. This is known as the fight or flight response and is our body’s way of helping us survive a dangerous situation. 

Last spring, I took my daughter away for a weekend. As I checked us into our hotel, I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. Our room door wouldn’t lock, the bathroom was not clean, and a woman kept walking up and down the hallway asking the clerk from the front desk what he was doing to keep her safe. Despite the fact that it was almost midnight, I packed my girl up and got out of there. This natural fight or flight response that our bodies have, helps protect us from danger. 

But, this fight or flight response can have a negative reaction on our bodies if it is repeatedly triggered. If we are consistently finding ourselves in a place where we are allowing fear and worry to overwhelm our days, this fight or flight response can actually be quite damaging.  As those chemicals are released into our brain to put us on high alert, our heart rate and blood pressure increase. We can experience diarrhea or constipation as the acid in our stomach increases, and our digestive enzymes decrease. Cortisol, which normally boosts our immunity, can actually suppress the immune system if introduced too often. High levels of stress can also increase our risk for depression or anxiety. Repeatedly giving into fear and triggering our fight or flight response isn’t healthy for our bodies or our minds.

So how do we handle the fears that hold us captive and keep us from moving forward into what God has for us? First, it’s important to remember that we live in a broken world: a broken world that in reality has much for us to fear. But an equal reality is this: most of those things we fear may happen to us, actually never do.Michel de Montaigne is quoted as saying, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” It’s easy to make a list of things that we fear, isn’t it? However, research has shown that 97% of what we worry about doesn’t actually happen. 97%!

In the study done by author Don Joseph Goewey, subjects were asked to make a list of things they feared. They then keep track of the results of these fears over a set period of time. It was found that 85% of what they feared would happen, never did. Of the 15% that did happen, “79% of the subjects found that they handled the difficulty better than expected or that the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.” 

Most of the things we worry about or fear never actually come to pass. It’s important to identify which fears are possible and which are probable. If a fear is only possible, then that is a fear we need to let go.

For example, I’ve seen posts on Facebook about this being coyote mating season. The posts suggest that male coyotes tend to be more aggressive during this season and that one should not leave their pets or children outside unattended. So, I as a mom, now have this fear that my precious cat or any one of my kids will be mauled by a coyote if they step a toenail outside. Is this possible? Yes. Is it probable? Unlikely. This is one fear that I need to release. 

Secondly, sort your fears and worries into two categories; those in your control and those out of your control. Identify those fears and worries that you have control over, and ask yourself what steps you can take to ease those fears. For example, you may worry about your child getting sunburned while playing outside. You have control over this fear in the fact that you can prevent it from happening by simply placing sunscreen on your child. That fear is one you can control. However, there may be some fears and worries that are completely out of your control. When faced with a situation that is out of our control, the best thing to do is pray about it and trust God with the outcome. 

For example, I didn’t want any of my kids to get teeth. Go ahead and laugh, but it’s true. When each of my kids were born, I thought they looked absolutely perfect. Though I knew they would all grow quickly there was one thing that I never wanted to change: their toothless grins. I thought each of my children would look utterly ridiculous when they got their teeth, and I may or may not have begged God not to let it happen. I even dared to admit this fear I had to my husband who of course thought it was absolutely ridiculous, and God must have thought so too because all three of my children currently have teeth. Was my kids getting their teeth completely out of my control? Absolutely! Am I glad now that they have teeth? Of course! 

This is a crazy example, but it proves to show that there are some fears we have that are just out of our control. We can’t control how other kids are going to treat our kids. We can’t control the thoughts that others have about us. We can’t control loved ones getting sick or accidents happening. We can’t control a lot of things in our life. But, we can control our response to them.  We can pray about these out of control situations and trust God with the outcome. He promises in Isaiah,

“Even if the mountains heave up from their anchors, and the hills quiver and shake, I will not desert you. You can rely on My enduring love.”

Isaiah 54:10 (VOICE).

He will not desert you. During those times that you feel completely out of control, surrender your situation to Him and trust Him with the outcome. 

Next, filter your fear through God’s truth. As I mentioned before, we live in a broken world; a broken world that can strike fear in our hearts just by reading the daily news or scrolling through Facebook. When fear tries to work its way into our hearts, it’s important to take that fear and hold it up against what God says is true. Romans tells us,

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Romans 12:2 (NLT).

We have to start changing the way we think. The world is going to tell us to fear. God however, says,

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

The world is going to tell us to think about everything that can go wrong. God says,

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

  Philippians 4:8 (ESV). 

When fear begins closing you in, take it immediately to God and ask, “Is this true?” If it doesn’t line up with what God’s Word tells us, then it doesn’t deserve a second thought. Change the way you think and filter your fear through His truth.

It’s also important to find an “unshakeable”. In her book, Brave Mom, Sherry Surratt identifies an “unshakeable” as someone who doesn’t panic, but faces situations with a steady calm. Think about this for a moment. How often have you shared something you are worried about with a friend only to have that friend come back and share other things related to that worry that you should also be worried about? 

For example, my oldest traveled with the marching band to Disney a couple of weeks ago. We decided to go down as a family, but would permit our oldest to actually travel with the band. This meant separate flights, separate hotels, separate transportation, and even a separate Disney park one day. I was completely at peace about this until a friend shared with me that she would never let her child go on such a trip at his age. What would happen if one of our planes crashed? What if someone tried to snatch my child at the airport? What if he got stopped going through security? What if he forgot to lock his hotel room door at night? What if he got lost at the park or hurt or kidnapped? There was no one way she would let her child go on such a trip. Now, how do you think I felt after this conversation? She shared an entire list of worries that I hadn’t even thought about, and now I was worried about all of that too!

There will be people in your life that will add fuel to your fears. It’s important to find an unshakeable, someone who will listen, encourage you, and give you calm, wise advice when you feel fear closing in.  Proverbs, says,

“Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.”

Proverbs 13:20 (MSG)

Lastly, choose gratitude. Sherry Surratt shares that fear can make us feel small and hopeless. When you feel fear beginning to overwhelm you, she suggests making a “thankful” list. Make a list of all the things that you can be thankful for in the moment. Maybe you’re thankful for your kids, maybe it’s a cup of hot coffee, or the opportunity to take a shower by yourself. Whatever it is, write it down. Then look over your list and be reminded of how much good is in your life right now. A grateful heart can give you a new perspective on any situation.  1 Thessalonians says,

“Whatever happens, always be thankful. This is how God wants you to live in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ERV)

To close, I want to remind you on one thing. If you have taken that step and asked Jesus to come into your life, then God’s very spirit lives within you. His Spirit is not fearful. 2 Timothy tells us,

“God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

He has given you a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. It’s time to step into that and let go of the fears that are holding you back from the life He has for you. 

 

 

 

References:

Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020. 

Building 429. “Fear No More.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cJFAGw3OaQ. Accessed 4 Feb. 2020.

Cherry, Kendra. “How the Fight or Flight Response Works.” Very Well Mind. 18 Aug. 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-fight-or-flight-response-2795194. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020. 

Daly, Jim. “The Top Ten Fears of Moms: How Do You Fare?” Focus on the Family. 20 Aug. 2015. https://jimdaly.focusonthefamily.com/the-top-five-fears-of-moms-how-do-you-fare/. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020.

Dictionarycom. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/fear?s=t. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020.

Goewey, Don Joseph. “85 Percent of What We Worry About Never Happens.” Huffpost. 6 Dec. 2017.  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/85-of-what-we-worry-about_b_8028368. Accessd 3 Feb. 2020.

Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fear. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020.

Surratt, Sherry. Brave Mom. Zondervan, 2014.

Surratt, Sherry. “Busting Your Mom Fears: 6 Easy Strategies for Overcoming Worry and Fear.” Faithgateway. 6 Oct. 2014. https://www.faithgateway.com/busting-your-mom-fears-6-strategies-overcoming-worry-fear/#.XjXXkC2ZOfU. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020.

TerKeurst, Lysa. “Overcoming Fear.” Lysa TerKeurst. 20 May. 2010. https://lysaterkeurst.com/2010/05/overcoming-fear/. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020.

“What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out?” Cleveland Clinic.  Mar. 2017. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/. Accessed 3 Feb. 2020.