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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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?

 

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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.

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