Starting Over ;) Back to Basics aka The Bare Necessities

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[Note: I actually wrote this first draft at the beginning of September to coincide with returning to the blog after my summer absence, but then my husband started a new position at work that dramatically changed our lifestyle‚Ķ so guess what?! I have been starting over yet again ūüôā Now it is obviously November and I am just now able to finish and post this draft. Why?? Because I have been desperately trying to regain and maintain the basics ūüôā ]

When was the last time you had to start over? Like re-starting a workout routine, re-starting a healthy lifestyle, re-starting the communication process in a relationship, re-starting school after years of being at home or in the workforce, re-starting a car that has hopefully been fixed. In a life that is full of mayhem and madness and things that breakdown or get in the way, it seems we are always in the midst of re-starting something.

And, at least for me, I find that starting over is often harder than starting something to begin with. When I start something fresh and new, there is usually a lack of expectations with the unknown. I can get away with less stress or pressure because I can comfort myself with the awareness that it is new and I just have to try my best. But when I am re-starting something, I have built-in expectations of what it was like before and how it should be now. I put more pressure on myself to do just as good or ever better, and I am hesitant to start or have a higher tendency to procrastinate; I’ll try again tomorrow right?!

This summer was one of those times for me. All of a sudden in June, I found my life taking an unexpected turn that landed me in and out of the hospital and eventually on home healthcare. I had to have constant care and help with my boys, and it was a challenging and humbling time to say the least. By the time I was released from medical care, it was mid-July, and my summer was almost half gone. On a positive note, we found out that we are pregnant with our third little one (which is super exciting) but is also a starting over of sorts ūüôā It took until August to really start to feel like myself again, and here we are at September [now November] and I am just now truly getting back to my ‚Äúnormal.‚ÄĚ

During our summer vacation this year, which providentially came at the end of July, I found myself incredibly discouraged at my lack of progress in regaining my stamina and strength and shared my frustrations with my mom. Starting over was a lot harder than I had planned, and I was upset that I had not bounced back and was not writing and producing and moving like I was before. However, in saying all of this out loud, I had an epiphany that I want to continue to remind myself of, as well as share with all of you.

Whether you are in the process of starting over or not (if not, I’m sure you will be in some way in the near future), it is so important to always START by going back to the basics. If the basics are not intact, then starting over will usually be unsuccessful or unnecessarily difficult.

Back to the Basics

Every time I think of going ‚Äúback to the basics,‚ÄĚ I hear Baloo from the cartoon Jungle Book singing the ‚ÄúBare Necessities,‚ÄĚ as shown in the cute graphic at the beginning of the post. While I may not agree completely with his overall message (there is a time and place for moving beyond the basics), Baloo was encouraging the young Mogli not to worry about bigger and better things until he had established his bare-necessities, or the basics in life. In the jungle, this mostly revolved around food and fun, but the same principles can apply to us as well.

So what are the ‚Äúbare-necessities,‚ÄĚ or the basics that we should seek to establish before going beyond and starting something new:

  1.  Eating: Our bodies need a specific amount of caloric intake to function at their best. If we are eating too little or too much or not enough of the right things, our bodies will not be able to function optimally. So, the first thing to look at is what your are putting in. There are a variety of ways to do this from hard copy food journals to apps you can use on your phone (I really like FatSecret) and there are multiple methods to determine what your intake should look like. While I will not claim to be an expert on this type of information, I encourage you to be intentional about what you are eating and if there seems to be something off, inform yourself and address it.
  2.  Sleeping: In addition to food, out bodies need a specific amount of rest and sleep to function at their best. As a parent, I find this is the most difficult of the basics to keep under my control since I have outside influences that somehow always need me at night. While my body begs for a nice 8-10 hours of sleep per night (and could blissfully do it if allowed), I have probably been operating at an average of 6 or less every night for the past 2 years since my second son was born. I hope to be able to work on this aspect a little more in a few years, but for now, I do everything I can to guard what little sleep I can get in hopes that it is better than nothing!!! I encourage you to do the same; take a look at your sleep habits (much like those eating habits) and see if there are things you can do to help promote this area in your life. Maybe it means setting a non-negotiable bedtime (with good intentions) for the whole house or finding a bedtime routine that helps usher you into a more peaceful and relaxed state before bed (like reading instead of watching TV); maybe it means not having caffeine after 6pm or trying to do chores first thing in the morning to avoid the late night buzz and business; or maybe it means recognizing that sleep is occupying too much of your time (I might be super jealous) and it would be ok to dial it back since you have some to spare.
  3. Moving: If you are eating and sleeping properly, you will have this lovely thing called energy that your body will want to release. And actually the reverse is true as well: if you want to eat and sleep properly, your body is able to do these things best when you are also using up regular amounts of energy (that use the calories and rest you are taking in). So, to make this cycle happy, we need to move during the day and keep our bodies active. This can take so many different forms: walking, running, chasing your kids or dogs or cats or all of the above, dancing, playing sports, doing yoga, hiking, swimming, the possibilities are really endless. The point is to get up and get out and utilize all that you have been putting in to make something happen. When we start moving, it is amazing the rewards our bodies give us, not only by burning calories and getting us worn out so we can sleep well, but also by working with our hormones and chemicals to elevate our moods. Overall, as long as the movement is healthy and safe, it is a great thing all around!
  4. Connecting: When we are eating, sleeping, and moving, we typically want to share those things with others. This is so important because as you might have noticed, humans were not created to be alone (in fact, they often suffer in isolation). So, we also need to ensure that we are making connections, both with God and each other, a priority as one of the great basics of healthy functioning. By spending set time with God focused on Him and what He is doing in our lives, we can find spiritual stability and filling to make it through each day. By spending set time with others, we can experience the encouragement, support, comradery, and accountability to keep growing, keep healing, and keep maintaining the basics so that we can also move beyond and invest in the bigger things we want to do.

When these basics are alive and well in our everyday experience, we can move on to bigger and better things. We will be ‚Äúfiring on all cylinders‚ÄĚ and be truly at our best for whatever we pursue. I call this setting myself up for success from the very beginning, which means I have the best foundation possible to be the best me possible and do the best work possible. And I can actually think about moving beyond into something extra and enjoyable… like blogging ūüôā

Application Challenge: Assessing and Addressing Your Basics

Whether you are starting over or not, I encourage all of us to take a moment and inventory our current basics? Are you fully stocked on the bear necessities? Are you eating, sleeping, moving, and connecting on a regular basis? Awesome!!! But if you are not, I would encourage you to make these a priority as much as you can in the here and now.

For me, it meant taking the pressure off myself to get back to things like writing and extra-curricular activities until my basics were built back up (hence the MIA status). To do this, I focused my energy on establishing eating again, guarding and getting as much sleep as possible (sometimes this is still a struggle with my little ones), finding ways to move throughout the day even if I cannot exercise like I was, and connecting with the Lord through music and devotionals and little bits of truth to feed my soul.

And if you are in a phase of life (newborn anyone?) where one of these aspects is not realistic (like sleep), keep this in mind and give yourself grace as you seek to start anything new. If possible, keep non-essential starting overs to a minimum to maximize the resources you do have until your basics are somewhat or even fully restored. I do not recommend taking on any new big challenges when your basics are lacking‚Ķ focus on building them up as much as possible. Remember, there is a reason they are called the basics‚Ķ we need these ‚Äúbare-necessities.‚ÄĚ ‚ô•

MoM: A Mother’s Heart for Her God

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Last week, we established that women are¬†divinely designed, especially equipped, and completely and confidently called to pursue life-giving activities including motherhood.¬†Which is beautiful and comforting and even inspiring to learn about, but what in the world does it mean for¬†real life living and mothering? How do I maximize my divine design and employ my especial equipping ūüôā as I confidently and completely live out my calling??? What does it look like to have an undivided heart on a daily basis, at 3am or 3pm or anywhere in between??¬†Where do I even start?

And while I have yet to find the Motherhood for Dummies book that I think should answer these questions step-by-step :), Sally does a wonderful job at summarizing what she has learned from her own motherhood adventure to encourage us and give us practical ideas of just that. In the next four sections, she will have us journey through the facets of our undivided hearts, focusing on what mothering looks like in connection to our heart for our God, our heart for our children, our heart for our home, and our heart for eternity. Are you ready to dive in with me??

A Mother’s Heart for Her God

To maximize our life-giving calling as women, it makes sense that the place we should start would be at the source of life itself: our God. While we may not have step-by-step instructions specifically geared towards mothering, we do have an amazing instruction manual for living the Christian life through scripture, and I love that Sally uses the same principles we learn for living out our faith as ways to make the most of our mothering as well. She summarizes these principles into 3 core concepts that we can apply to others as well as our children to help them get to know our God: serving, discipling, and teaching.

  • Serving: ¬†As we know from some of the previous books we have read, one of the main components of our faith involves serving others. This service involves humbling ourselves and putting the needs of others first out of a purposeful choice, not our of a lack of self or forceful obligation. It is an intentional decision and can take a variety of shapes and sizes from making meals to washing feet to paying a bill to cutting grass; if there is a need someone has that you are willing to meet through time, effort, or finances, then you are living out your call to service. One of the great and yet sometimes overwhelming things about motherhood is that there are endless opportunities to serve¬†our children on a daily basis within our own home. Now before you balk at this suggestion, hear me out. I am not a proponent of co-dependent mothering, where the focus is always the children and whatever they want goes at the detriment of the mother, or spoiling children by giving in to their every desire and not teaching them about the concepts of “no” or “later,” but somehow over the years, the idea of a child needing a parent or serving our children as Christ served His disciples has become confused with these unhealthy parenting styles. Giving our children our time and sharing with them our lives is exactly what parenting is all about, as Christ modeled for us on multiple occasions (His time with the disciples, serving them through foot-washing and feedings, and inviting children to interrupt and spend time with Him throughout his ministry). ¬†Recognizing their needs based on their current level of development and seeking to meet them even if it means less sleep or not getting to watch the latest episode of my tv show or having to put my phone down for a moment so I can pay attention to his knock-knock joke for the 50trillionth time is exactly what I should be doing right now. And is it really that bad if I go beyond that and actually try to serve them beyond their needs and just set out to love them?? A resounding NO. Our God went way beyond our needs when He not only saved us from an eternity without Him, but also created an opportunity for us to live an abundant life in relationship with him and we are encouraged to do the same with those around us, but even more so to the little audience we have right within our home. One important note here: Service with strings attached¬†is not service at all. While Sally shared an intense story of a mom who apparently did not really want to have children in the first place and was resenting their pull at her own life, I have found that many moms (myself included) have small amounts of resentment boiling under the surface that grows with every need or request or service for her children if not confronted. Could you imagine if Jesus said, “I guess I will wash your feet because I have to, but you better realize what a big deal this is for me.” If that were the case, I know it would change my entire perspective of His gift and His love for me. And yet, I do this all the time in my head and sometimes to their faces with my littles: Do you know how hard I worked to get that meal ready that you will not eat? Do you know how many nights I haven’t slept because you needed me? Do you know how many of “my” moments I have missed because I had to be with you? Do you know how long I was in labor to have you? They sound horrible in writing them out, but the raw reality is that we are human and these thoughts and feelings are real reflections of having to sacrifice our selfishness and choose to serve our children wholeheartedly as we mother them. While we can still teach them appreciation (mommy worked very hard on dinner so even if you do not like it, it is kind to say thank you), our service should come from an unconditional and giving place that does not involve resentment. When we show them what this true service looks like as we live with them each day, we give them a glimpse into how Christ loves and serves them as well.
  • Discipling: ¬†Another component of living out our Christian faith is following the Great Commission, or going and making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). Again, this commission applies to all of us regardless of gender or parental status, but we are given a unique opportunity to implement discipleship within our homes when we seek to make disciples of our little ones.¬†As Sally shares, discipleship goes beyond just teaching morality, but is truly about shaping hearts to love and grow in knowing the Lord (p. 80). ¬†To do this, there are three practices involved: instructing, training and guarding.
    • Instructing actually means imparting knowledge, so that our children know the basic tenants of our faith and values and have a foundation from which to grow. Just like we teach them letters and numbers and colors, there are spiritual truths we can impart as the basics of faith that they can them recognize and apply to the world around them (the grass is green; God loves me and has a plan for me).
    • Training is showing our children how to apply this knowledge in our actions and everyday circumstances. This means looking for opportunities where the above-instructed truths apply. The example from our family that comes to mind is in combating night-time fears for my oldest son. We have always taught Him that God is our protector and takes care of us, but at night when he is scared, we have opportunities to live out this truth through praying with him, reminding him of God’s promises, and encouraging him that he can pray too when he is scared (and he does LOL).
    • Finally, guarding means using your current authority (based on your children’s ages; if they are adults, this aspect may look more like making sure you are not being a stumbling block through your own choices) to protect your children from unhealthy influences, such as harmful¬†forms of media,¬†people, and¬†circumstances. I love the word picture that Sally uses in this specific instance, where she envisions her and her husband guarding their children’s fountains, making sure that nothing gets in to poison or taint the waters (p. 94). Especially when children are little, this type of guarding is so important as their minds and hearts are still soft and easily influenced by anything they see, hear, or experience. By intentionally guarding what they come into contact with as well as teaching them how to guard their own fountain as they age is an important part of helping them grow in the faith.
  • Teaching:¬†As noted above, to effectively disciple those around us, and especially our children, we must teach them important¬†life lessons and values to provide the foundation of how they see their own lives and values. When someone initially becomes a Christian, they want to know all they can about the Christian worldview, faith, and practices. ¬†Similarly, our children look to us to learn everything about life, from how to eat with a spoon to how to speak to how to interact with others and especially how to understand faith and life and the world around us. As we seek to make the most of these teachable moments, Sally imparts that we can focus these lessons¬†on four main principles: teaching basic morality and what is considered right versus what is considered wrong, teaching basic theology and the foundational knowledge of God, teaching wisdom and how to critically think about life from God’s point of view, and teaching faith and how to trust God when we cannot see Him or feel Him everyday. Covering these four areas in teaching our children, as well as others, will provide them with a basic understanding for how they can view and live out their own lives as they move into adulthood.

When we serve, disciple, and teach our children (as well as those around us), we live out the calling God has for us as both women and mothers, and we truly become “life-givers” in every sense.

How does this apply to me?

Regardless of if you do or do not have children at this point in time, we are all called to serve, disciple, and teach others about Christ in meaningful, life-giving ways. It is amazing to me that mothering is truly an in-home/in-family version of who we have been called to in Christ anyway. So, how does this become personal and practical outside of the obvious?

For me, it truly deals with the heart of the matter (pardon the pun). Often, whether in my interactions with others but especially in my interactions with my children, I feel ill-equipped and inadequate to serve, disciple, and teach. While we addressed the equipped concern last week, I also need to challenge my insecurities and inadequacies when it comes to these spiritual dimensions of my mothering. From gleaning all that I can from Sally’s sharing, two points really stuck out that I want to apply as I move forward (besides all of the above LOL). Maybe they will resonate with you too!

  1. All that I can be is who I am… and that is enough! I just need to be intentional about being me! ūüôā As we determined last week, I am exactly who I am for a reason. God was not careless when He gave me Gavin and Liam; He was purposeful and intentional and specific. And the same goes for you and your own children or the special people that you have in your life. There is a divine reason you are in relationship with them, and this means God intended for YOU to be there with all of your strengths, weaknesses, and quirky components. Children and adults of all ages learn best by being shown, and so just by being me, I can teach my children so much about life and love and most of all, my God. But this means I have to be intentional and purposeful about sharing my time and my life with them; my shining and not so shining moments, and letting them see the real me even when I am unsure. When I do this, I give them the freedom and confidence to try it out too, to embrace who they are, and to use who they are in service, discipling, and teaching others. All just by being me. And just by you being you… just by being who you were created to be and sharing yourself with your children and the people around you, you can truly make a lasting impression with the unique gift of who you are.
  2. I need to trust God’s decision to use me and also to fill in the gaps between who I am and what they need! On p. 83, Sally shares a quote that I have underlined and starred and plan to post where I can see it all the time: “All that God requires from any of us is a desire to serve Him and a trust that He can make up the difference for the things we lack.” What a relief!!! Not only did He want me to be in the lives of my children on purpose, but He is also aware that I will never be perfect, and He already factored that in! This means I can do my best and trust that He will make up for anything I am missing (and then some). Which means I can rejoice in my amazing mothering moments, where I feel like I hit the mark right on, and trust that the not so amazing mothering moments, where I am weak or even hurtful, are being redeemed by my God who is bigger than me and an active participant in our lives whether we acknowledge Him or not. I do not have to waste the precious moments I do have (which are quickly flying by) on my inadequacies or my screw-ups because it does not do any good for anyone and He already has it covered (yay!!!). All I really have to do is try… or the cheesy cliche that is truly one of my favorites: Do your best and God will do the rest!!! ūüôā

Our Challenge:

For this week then, our challenge is two-fold. First, I encourage you to take a look at those three areas Sally shared with us that portray our heart for our God to others and our children: service, discipling, and teaching. Choose one of them to focus on in the next month, to really be intentional about as you interact with those in your life.

For me, this is the training aspect of discipling. Since teaching comes naturally to me and I grew up in a house where servant leadership was the norm, it is really taking all of God’s truth and purposefully applying it in front of my children (out loud) that is something I am lacking. I definitely want them to take the biblical principles we read about at night or learn about in church and apply them to their lives, but I have not been super intentional about modeling that for them at their level. Even in the couple of days after reading this, I noticed multiple opportunities throughout the day (a sibling interaction, or a whining reaction to parental instruction, or even an entitled moment) where I can present truth and then follow-up with practicing the truth as well. How neat it has been to watch this step in action and I am excited to see how it continues as it influences my life as well as theirs!

Second, I encourage you to follow-through with at least one of the amazing ideas Sally provides at the end of each chapter to act upon what was discussed.

Whether you have children or not, these ideas are fantastic in promoting the love of Christ and sharing it with others. For instance, my mom and I discussed having a family-wide foot-washing on our next vacation to serve one another and build the love and intimacy that comes when we humble ourselves and care for one another in this way. Other ideas include starting a family devotional time with your children, using the ARTS acronym to strike up conversations about learning and applying biblical truths (this is so cool!!! p. 105-106), or look for an opportunity to willingly participate in an activity that is not your favorite, but is the thing your loved one always wants to do.

Then, above all else, have fun with it!!! Remember, by sharing ourselves and our time with those around us, especially our children, we not only invest in them, but we do so in life-giving ways that share the most important part of ourselves: our heart for our God.‚ô•

MoM: A Mother’s Calling aka “What are you made of??”

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Sugar and spice and everything nice right? ūüôā At least, this¬†was the cutesy answer told to us in a nursery rhyme when I was growing up. And while it technically was focused on little girls and what they are made of, we all know there was some intent for this memorable line to be used¬†to develop grown-up women into sweet, Betty Crocker¬†housewives that cooked for and supported¬†their husbands (who are getting dirty and working hard as grown-up versions of snips, snails, and puppy dog tails; I know there is a note of cynicism here and I am not against the cute nursery rhyme, I just know there is more to being a little girl and a woman then it portrays). However, now that I am actually living out being a “grown-up” (SCARY), I realize there is so much more to being a woman then the¬†nursery rhyme wisdom imparts, especially when it comes to being a mother.

In fact, I have observed both personally and professionally that there is an overarching confusion in our current American society over what it means to be a mom. As our culture moves toward a unisex understanding of life with non-traditional gender roles and multiple gender identities, even the biological aspects of the female sex are being challenged and re-defined before our very eyes. And with all of these changes it makes sense that the foundation of who we are as women is becoming unstable and unknown as we search out true meaning and understanding among a multitude of competing perspectives.

Fortunately, as Christians, we can find a firm foundation in our Creator God and in the truth of our creation as both woman and mother described in His Word. I love that Sally challenges the current confusion by searching out God’s mission for motherhood and begins our journey with a rediscovery of the calling to be a mom that is first understood in light of creation as a woman and what we are truly made of.

What are you made of?

If you were to ask me this question point blank, I could give you a variety of answers. I could focus on the physical and ¬†describe that¬†I am made¬†of skin and bones and muscle and blood (gross). I also have a mind and a spirit that work within this body. I could focus on the psychological and that I have a tenacious and strong personality that is often more serious than fun but has some crazy moments mixed in to keep everyone guessing ( ūüôā ). I could give you my heritage from a regional or ethnic perspective, or begin to recount the challenges I have had to overcome that has shaped who I am today. Honestly though, I probably would not go back to the original creation and determine what I am made of in light of God’s creation. Which is why I am so grateful that this is exactly where we start in this posting. ¬†As Sally discusses in detail, Scripture is quite clear that we were created to work in tandem with man but with distinct abilities and giftings based on our biological and emotional differences. The implications of our creation are many, but I am going to discuss the two highlights that really stood out to¬†me in reading through this first section:

  • Divinely Designed and Especially Equipped: ¬†From the very beginning, God had a specific purpose in mind when he created women. Our female bodies and characters (even with all of their diversity) reflect a divine design that is especially equipped to give life and nurture life (p.27).¬†The original female (untainted by sickness and death and our fallen world) had the capacity within her womb to grow and birth a new human life as well as sustain it with her body during those first formative years. She was also given specific character traits, such as being innately more relational, more nurturing, and often able to better simultaneously complete multiple tasks when compared to her male counterpart. I love that Sally points out that being a woman as well as being a mom (being fruitful and multiplying) was a part of the PERFECT core design in creation (p.21). I had never really caught on to this part in all my readings of Genesis, but had always gotten distracted by the whole “pain in childbirth” section of the curse. And unfortunately, this is often where we find ourselves today as¬†over the years, sin and human nature have distorted this original creation through infertility challenges, personality differences, and¬†relational difficulties that cause us to doubt and question our roles as women and moms. However, I truly believe that we as females still closely resemble Eve in much of our design and how we are equipped to inspire and nurture the lives of those around us (whether biologically related or not). By recognizing and maximizing this resemblance, we find a deeper sense of focus and purpose that resonates with our design and our Designer.
  • Confidently¬†Called and Completely Committed: Embracing our divine design and the special attributes we have as women leads right into understanding that we have thus been called to actually use¬†them and commit to actually using them!!! This means recognizing that our bodies and characters, with all of our similar as well as unique components, have been constructed specifically to complement our calling: to influence this world in light of eternity and work towards building a life-giving spiritual legacy (p.13). ¬†Please know this does not necessarily mean staying home, having babies, and never getting out of the house again except for church. It means taking all of you, your female body and your personality and your gifts and your abilities, and using them for God’s work in the lives of others. This includes your children (if they exist), as well as the children and adults you come into contact with both within and outside of your family. You being you was not an accident, and God knows both your strengths and your weaknesses as well as your circumstances and still calls you to influence those around you for His kingdom. ¬†When we really understand and employ this, we grow not only in our calling, but in our confidence of our calling. We are also challenged to commit wholeheartedly to this calling, which I think is one of the biggest difficulties facing women and mothers today. Are we completely committed to anything these days, but especially our God-given calling as women? I truly believe this is why we have a stress epidemic sweeping our nation among women (and men too for that matter) as we are trying to “have it all” and end up only doing lots of things half-way. This was never God’s intent (a house divided will not stand; you cannot serve two masters), and instead, wants us to have healthy priorities and filters for how we live out our calling. This means looking at our priorities and ensuring that first things come first. If you have children and your family and home are not your first priority, you will constantly be struggling with an inner conflict (you may become desensitized to it over time, but it will still be there).Even if you do not have children but are a Christian and are not putting your calling first, you will experience this distress as well. When things are in their proper position, we experience the freedom and peace of knowing what is most important, and being able to filter out the things that drain us or take away from that which is priority. We can give our best to what is most important, and no longer fret about what is not. God wants us to give all of ourselves to Him, to use the innate abilities we have been given¬†and live out our callings with undivided hearts, so that we can experience the confidence and freedom that He divinely designed from the very beginning.

So, what am I made of? I am a divinely designed female human known as a woman who is especially equipped both biologically and psychologically to cultivate and nurture life around me. I have been called to wholeheartedly use these attributes to influence the lives around me in light of eternity and build a spiritual legacy that will last for generations to come.¬†Well, when you put it that way‚Ķ ūüôā

How Does this Apply to Me?

The above imparted truths are incredibly near and dear to my heart because I have always struggled with the concept and calling of motherhood for myself. It always seemed better suited for someone else, but not for me. For those of you that did not know me growing up, I was the least likely of all my friends to be predicted to be a mom one day. I was not the typical “girly girl” (I am still not); I was never really into babysitting, never sought out opportunities to be around babies or children, and focused more on my academics and career than anything else. So when I found myself desiring a family for the first time in my life and then actually getting pregnant, I also found myself having to face a multitude of fears and insecurities that I had kept locked away for years.

Maybe you were the exact opposite, and have always been drawn to children and babysitting was and still is your favorite thing to do. Being around littles ones has always been easy and fun for you, but now that you have children of your own, there is a different weight and pressure that was not present when you were babysitting. These little ones look to you for everything, and you cannot give them back to their parents because you are the parents! All of a sudden, mothering looks different than you expected, and there are fears and insecurities and challenges that surface that you were unaware of as well.

And your story may be a combination or nothing like the two above, but the fears and insecurities attached with motherhood and being a woman are real and experienced each day as we press on. This is why we need to move beyond just recognizing the truths above, and actually living them out and applying them to our daily lives. For me, this looks like the following:

  • Written Reminders: This is a big one for me, especially when it comes to mothering. When I first became a mom, I was¬†plagued with stress and pressure and guilt that were at times overwhelming. In addition to¬†not having a clue of what I was doing, I so badly wanted to do it “right” that I forfeited much of the joy that comes in actually just experiencing¬†it. I finally had to combat the thoughts that were holding me hostage, such as “I’ll never get this right” or “Maybe I am just not really mom material” and for me, the best way to do this is to write out truth and put it around my living area where I can see it multiple times a day. In my journal, I began writing out truths, like the ones we have read about this week, that I am actually intrinsically divinely designed and especially equipped to be a mom, even if my mothering looks different from someone else. I was created from the very beginning to be the exact mom that I am -just like you were created to be the exact mom that you are- and our mothering can look different and still be ok¬†as long as we are both seeking the Lord for guidance and direction on how to use all that He has given us. I will never mother just like you, nor you like me, but that is obviously what God intended for our children to grow to be exactly who they are supposed to be. After writing this in my journal, I also wrote out similar truths for my desk, posted pictures reminding me of the importance of my perspective and heart position in the kitchen, and even created a graphic of written truth for the wallpaper on my cell phone. These written reminders keep me grounded in these truths throughout the day, and provide confidence and encouragement to recognize and live out this truth!
  • Meaningful Meditations: Building upon the written reminders described above, I have learned that I must move one step further and actually integrate the truth into my core being. I have to go through and confront the negative lies deep within my soul, and this means taking the time and effort to meditate on the truths I am reading and experiencing around me. Much like taking the time to allow tea to steep and infuse into the surrounding waters, I take the time to meditate on these truths and let them work their way into both my heart and mind. Often, I pick one theme or truth that I am currently learning, and that becomes my meditation focus. These past few weeks, it has been the concept of a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). After reading this verse during a quiet time, I realized it was an aspect of both being a woman and being a mom that I had not been experiencing and had not been promoting among my family. Since then, not only have I created written reminders to prompt reflection throughout the day, but I have made special time to reflect upon, apply, and meditate on this concept as I begin my day, interact with those around me, and complete my day. There have been moments where I have been the complete opposite of gentle and quiet, but the meditation has revealed these instances in ways I had not noticed before and also inspired different courses of action that I had never considered. I am a living testimony that meaningful meditation is a must for moms!
  • Powerful Prayers: Writing and meditating, while great, are both me-focused and occur in my own strength. And while there are days that these work, they will have absolutely no power if I do not plant¬†them in God’s truth and promote them with powerful prayer. There is nothing that has brought me to my knees more than my marriage and my mothering, crying out on behalf of my self, my husband, and my children. When I discover a truth that God has revealed to me, I have learned that submitting it to Him in prayer is by far the best thing I can do. For instance, when I first became a mom, I tried to do it all; be a stay-at-home mom, carry a full-time teaching load, continue counseling part-time, and volunteer in ministry. Sometimes I could pull it off, but most of the time I was running from place to place, exhausted, overwhelmed, and wanting to give my best to each thing but really only able to give partial because it was all I had left. The disservice of this quest¬†really hit me when my son started struggling with naps (aka Mommy’s time to work) and all of a sudden, my anger was uncontrollable. I “needed” this time and now I was not getting it because my toddler had decided not to nap. I remember telling my mom and my husband: “if I did not have work to do it would be just fine, but every nap he misses is more work for me later.” My heart was obviously divided, and I was torn between two masters of work and home. After I read Sally’s description of wholehearted mothering, it changed everything about my life. It was the truth I had been searching for, and I decided then and there to pursue an undivided heart. I was no longer torn about what needed to happen because I knew God had called me to love my family first, and all else would get what was left. This meant changing my priorities, guarding my time and not taking on too much (limiting my course load and counseling), and making myself completely available to my children, even during nap time. This change has not been easy, and there are still struggles, but this is where prayer has been so powerful. Many days throughout the week, I start the morning with a prayer version of Sally’s words on pg. 45, asking for an undivided heart and that I would “see my children’s care and nurture as God’s best will for my life” and begin “treating each day as sacred.” I will also prayerfully consider anything I add to my plate, from what courses to teach to whether or not to attend a certain event, and let God filter what I give my time to. By submitting these requests to God, I have truly seen His power at work in and through me and my family.

Our Challenge:

I love being reminded of all of the above, because to be honest, I feel like I often need someone screaming it at me! In the midst of living life and getting caught up in the challenges and struggles of family, friendships, ministry, work, finances, chores, AND mothering, I lose sight of my divine design as well as my calling and end up beating myself up for not being able to do it all, be it all, or even consider myself somewhat successful based on my own distorted sense of accomplishment.¬†And when I lose sight of truth, I lose sight of my mission as a woman and as a mom, and as Sally describes, when we lose sight of our mission, the important people in our lives, especially children, are easily seen as “a time drain, a monetary expense, a career impediment, and a curtailer of personal freedom” (p.33).

With this in mind, I challenge us to take a true inventory of our current heart status. What does your heart look like? If you made it a pie chart of your heart, what would it look like? Would it be divided into multiple, competing sections, complete with different colors and drawing from you in different ways?

heartpie2

Or are you willing to commit to wholeheartedly seeking what God has for you in this time, setting your priorities according to His best will for you? There may still be different areas of your heart that require time, effort, and energy, but when completed under one master and with each area in its proper place, it can promote a sense of unity, freedom, and peace.

heartpiechart

My prayer for myself and for you is that we would search our hearts and rid ourselves of any divisions that are causing division and pain.  May we embrace wholehearted living and  celebrate in our divine design and the ways we have been especially equipped to confidently and completely commit to the call He has on our lives… to truly enjoy and employ all of the wonderful and amazing things we are made of. ♥

May Book Club: The Mission of Motherhood

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“As I look to the needs of children today, I am convinced they need the same things from their mothers that I needed… They need not only the gentle touch of a mother’s hands, but her focus and attention on a daily basis. They need a champion and a cheerleader, someone who has the time and energy to give encouragement along life’s way and comfort in dark times. They need a directive voice to show them how to live. These needs are not frivolous demands. They’re a part of the way God designed children” (p.2).

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it might be fun to read a book about mothering for this month. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not ūüôā , but being a mom is not exactly easy. Sure, some women have more natural nurturing then others and can make it look easy, but there is not a mother I have met that has not found mothering difficult at some point in her life. I know for me I often describe it as the best and worst thing I have ever done… because it truly is!!! As the quote above describes, children are designed to have genuine, distinct, significant needs that are best met by their mothers, but this puts intense pressure on those of us who have been honored with that role.While living out this role and fulfilling those needs is incredibly rewarding and I am reminded of its blessing with every little smile and sweet memory, it is also the most difficult thing I have ever attempted when it requires losing sleep, constant self-sacrificing, mounting insecurities, and daily challenges of my will and sanity ūüôā

I am not the first mother that has ever struggled nor am I alone (there is some comfort in that) but I find that our current society has a tendency to either overplay or underplay motherhood. Either you have to be perfect at it (Facebook fake it right?!) or just do not talk about it often seems to be the standard. And God forbid you reach out and ask for help!!! However, this does not work for me (and I am guessing it probably does not work for you either)! I need other moms in my life, and I need to be able to share the real struggles we are experiencing so we can learn from, commiserate with, and encourage one another along the way.

I especially need moms that are a little farther ahead of me, so that they can give me hope and wisdom as I confront things they have already experienced. Many of these women are available in our churches and local communities, but for some reason (another posting), we do not always get the time or opportunity to connect, which means generations of moms, like you and me, are missing an important part of our own development and support.

Fortunately,there are amazing women like Sally Clarkson, author of this month’s book, who have gone before us and now have all of this mothering wisdom to pass on to those of us that have just begun the journey. Since her experience has been recorded and published in book form, we can tap into her many mothering lessons without having to find a time that works for both of our schedules or confirm childcare :). I am so excited to share this experience with you, and grow in our own mothering as we learn from hers!

Why I Chose this Book

When I found this book, I was in my fourth month of second motherhood (I had added my second little guy to the mix) and I was somewhat on the edge of losing it. I had decided to take even more time off from my career due to childcare conflicts as well as personal desires, and while this time off may sound lovely, it was also a struggle. I have always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom but there is this looming pressure from the outside world to do more, be more, achieve more and not let your career go to waste while you are taking care of your children. So, if it isn’t always looking for another side job to still be “successful” there is always the method of over-booking, over-busying, and over-analyzing myself to make sure I am still being all that I should be and more (even though it is miserable).

At this particular time, I was trying to be particularly discerning about what I kept in my life and what I let go as I left the newborn-maternity-leave phase and re-acclimated to real life with but not completely focused around my children. And to be honest, I was completely lost. What should I do? What does it look like to be a mom with all of the other things screaming for my time? How should I answer? Can I really be all things to everyone and wear all of these hats and should I even try? How can I best maximize my time with my children and make the most of my mothering while still maintaining me and some semblance of sanity?

I longed for answers and encouragement and this book was like a warm hug from a sweet friend with a cup of hot tea attached ūüôā As I started to read, Sally spoke straight to me heart, to my concerns, my fears, my insecurities, my struggles, my desires… it was as if she had read through my unspoken thoughts and questions and then sat down to write me a personal letter. As I read her insights and understanding about motherhood as a mission, I felt many pieces of my own life and heart falling into place as I realigned my vision and focus with the calling before me. And ever since, it has been so refreshing to view mothering as a part of my life mission (and not just a biological obligation) that gives meaning to even the most monotonous of moment and allows me to maintain motivation, focus, and challenges me to view the miraculous among the mayhem. My guess is that it can do the same for you!

*One unique thing about this book versus the others is that I have not actually read it all just yet (I only made it through the first couple of chapters). So with that in mind, I will give the caveat that unlike the books prior, there may be some controversial material that I am not aware of (yay topics like mothering) or a stance on mothering that I or you do not agree with. I hope we can dialogue about that if it arises, but also view this as a learning point which means we still need to filter everything we read through God’s Word and truth and not just take it at face value. I will share my thoughts as we go along; please feel free to share yours as well!

Tentative Schedule

I am not sure that this section should really be published anymore, since I have yet to keep to one in the past couple of months ūüôā However, it does give me a goal to work towards and at least gives you an idea of what I will be attempting ūüôā So with that in mind, here is my hopeful plan for how I will be reading and writing through this book:

Part One: A Mother’s Calling¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† May 12

Part Two: A Mother’s Heart for Her God¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† May 17

Part Three: A Mother’s Heart for Her Children ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† May 20

Part Four: A Mother’s Heart for Her Home¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† May 25

Part Five: A Mother’s Heart for Eternity¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† May 29

My Hope for Our Experience

With each book we read, my overarching hope is that we will be encouraged and challenged to keep moving forward and to not just survive this life (although there are moments when this is all we can do), but to truly THRIVE. For this book especially, my hope is that those of us who are currently moms will be renewed and refreshed when it comes to our motherhood journey to benefit both ourselves and our families. For those of you who are not yet moms or do not plan to be, my hope is that you will still join us this month as a learning experience (possibly for the future) about motherhood and how we can best support the moms in our lives right now since it is often a difficult and lonely calling. Regardless of your current situation, I affirm Sally’s hope as well: that we will experience a “rediscovery of the traditional mission of motherhood [and] a rediscovery of what God had in mind when he first designed families” (p.2-3).¬†‚ô•

***PS: I know we still have postings on the Strategy of Satan; I have not forgotten; they are in draft form at the moment and will be appearing soon!!! ūüôā

 

Purpose Driven Life Finale: Your Mission Should You Choose to Accept It…

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Here we are at the finale of the Purpose Driven Life (I know right?! FINALLY!!! :)), can you believe it?? In the past 40 days (and a little bit more given some lovely outside circumstances), we have explored the answers to the important question of “What on earth am I here for?”and discovered that there are five specific purposes God has for us in this life. So far, we have discussed four of these purposes in detail and how we have been created to make God smile, to be a part of God’s family, to become like Christ, and to serve God and others. And while all of these purposes are wonderful and essential to fully experiencing all God has for us in this life, there is one more purpose to add to the fold before we are finished: we were made for a mission (should you choose to accept it ūüôā ).

Your Mission… Should You Choose to Accept it

I love this saying, as well as the Mission Impossible movies that go with it (surprise surprise). No matter which rendition you watch, the plot is the same: there is some seemingly impossible mission sent out from an important authority to a group of select agents, and these agents have to determine if they are going to accept the job and attempt the impossible. Could you imagine if Tom Cruise and the other characters thought about the mission and said, “Nope, this one is too hard and I am tired from the last one so I am going to sit this one out. A nice nap or vacation sounds much better right now. Thanks for asking though!” Of course not! Then there would be no suspense, no action, no investment in the movie and there would be no reason for any of us in the audience to get excited. No one would want to watch because it would be pointless and boring.

The same goes for us with our lives!  As we end our purpose driven journey, we are  given a similar choice with a challenge to move beyond ourselves and our relationships with God and other Christians to truly reach out to those around us who do not know Christ and do not experience truth and wholeness as we do. As Rick shares, when we determine in our hearts to follow Christ and live out the other four purposes summarized above, we are also called to the mission of telling others about Christ and spreading the good news we have found to be true. Much like in the movies, we are a group of select agents, equipped with exactly what we need to be successful, and we have to choose if we are willing to risk it all to complete the task before us. Yes, you get to be a super special secret agent, which means all of a sudden, your life gets to be a little more exciting and a whole lot more purposeful :).

In other words, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to share your story with the world and look for opportunities to tell them about the life and hope you have found through Christ. Rick calls this story our Life Message (Day 37), and explains that it consists of four components that give us a platform for sharing with others:

  • Our Testimony: This is the story of how we came to know Christ. It includes what life was like before becoming a Christian, how we came to know Him as our Savior, and now what our life is like afterwards. Humans are innately drawn to stories (hence our love of books and movies) and so it makes sense that this would be one of the best ways we can share Christ with others.
  • Our Life Lessons: These are the important truths we have learned over the years, also known as wisdom, that other people might benefit from knowing. Things like “learning not to worry about tomorrow” or “unforgiveness really only hurts the one holding on to it” or “you really can do anything you put your mind to” all fall into this category. Humans are always looking for answers to life problems, so we can use our own life lessons to shed light on these issues from a godly perspective.
  • Our Godly Passions: These are the things that we really care about and that get us energized. There is a wide range of what you might be passionate about: it may be a specific cause or a people group or a food group or a sport or an art or anything else in between. These passions often give us something in common with others and provide a connection to be able to relate in other areas, like life questions.
  • Our Good News: This is the hope we have in Christ because we have a reason for living in getting to know Him and the God who created us. People everywhere are searching for meaning, for a reason to live and thrive and do more than just breathe and eat and live till we die. The Good News that we have to share is that there is someone bigger than us with a bigger plan that we get to be a part of: we have a Creator who loves us, intentionally created us, and has specific purposes for us to experience and enjoy throughout all eternity.

For some of us, this may truly seem like a mission impossible sequel as sharing ourselves with anyone, much less strangers in another part of the world, sounds completely crazy. But I encourage you, especially if you are feeling stale or stagnant or bored with where you are in life and you feel like the other four purposes are right on, that you are probably at the place in life where a little risk and an attempt at an impossible mission is exactly what you need. The nice part about God is He will never force us to take on any mission (although there may be natural consequences for saying no… Jonah and a whale comes to mind :)), but He will invite us to join Him and the adventure is totally worth it!

How Does this Apply to Me?

If this mission seems a tad overwhelming or daunting, I promise, you are not alone. Sharing with others about Christ is a big task, but much like anything else, we can still bring it home with a personal, practical application that starts with smaller steps instead of trying to take on everything at once. One way we can do that is by being intentional about living out the five purposes we have covered in this book each and every day.

To do this, Rick encourages creating a life purpose statement (Day 40) that sums up what the five purposes mean for you in a clear and concise way. This statement can provide focus and direction for all that you do in a meaningful way without requiring the reading of an entire book everyday ūüôā . He describes that to create this statement, we can ask and answer these 5 key questions (p.314-316):

  1. What do I want at the center of my life?
  2. What kind of person do I want to be?
  3. What do I want my contribution to be?
  4. What do I want my communication to be?
  5. What do I want my community to be?

Compiling the answers to these questions, we should be able to create a simple life statement that reflects who and what we want for our life and gives us the direction we have been looking for. While Rick shares several examples on page 317 that are comprehensive and directly describe each of the purposes and answers to the questions above, I found that they were a little too wordy and formal for my current stage in life. So I encourage you to really search out and develop a statement that fits who and how God has created you to me.

For me, I can answer all of the above questions: I desperately want Christ and His love at the center of my life, I truly want to be an inviting and loving person where people can experience grace and acceptance while at the same time being encouraged and challenged to grow and achieve the best in life, I want to be able to leave a legacy where those I teach can then teach others and the people around me have more hope and understanding after having known me, I want every thing that I do and every word that I say to reflect all of the above, and I want this to be evident to those both within and outside of the church. And while I love these answers, it is way too long for me to call to memory in quick moment, so I have summed it up in this simple statement that I actually have posted all around (including as the wallpaper on my cell phone):

Love Generously with an Undivided Heart.

If I can do that, if I can seek to love those I come into contact with (especially my husband and children) generously (unconditionally) with a heart that is not divided (because a house divided cannot stand), then I will be living out my purpose on this life… and will experience an amazing peace and joy that wells up from within regardless of the external circumstances. And when I fall short, which happens all the time, I still have a goal to work towards and a direction with which to guide whatever efforts I have left ūüôā And I have an awesome purpose that infiltrates and radiates all that I do!!!

Our Challenge:

With all of the above said :), there are a variety of challenges we could take from this segment (and the book as a whole) to apply all that we have learned. Feel free to choose working on your Life Message or creating your life purpose statement, as these are both incredibly important. However, for this finale, I want to focus on Day 39, where Rick describes the importance of finding balance in our lives. As a counselor, this lesson is near and dear to my heart, as I have personally experienced as well as professionally worked with burnout and compassion fatigue and all of the adverse consequences that come from an imbalanced life. God never intended us to operate in an imbalanced state, but wants us to truly thrive by looking to Him and putting into practice the healthy steps to maintain and achieve balance. These steps include (but are not limited to):

  1. Walking through life with a spiritual accountability partner or small group. This means being real and honest with someone(s) outside of your immediate family (not a spouse either) and inviting them to speak truth into your life in both an encouraging or challenging way. I have a specific set of people that I have asked to hold me accountable, to pray for me, and to challenge me when my life seems out of balance from their perspective and I am forever grateful for all of the times they have come through for me!!! If you do not have an accountability/prayer partner or a small group, I STRONGLY encourage you to be on the lookout.
  2. Writing down your progress in a journal. To be honest, I am horrible about this but I really am trying to get better. There is something to be said about cataloging what God is doing in our lives and recording the good, the bad, and everything in between. Most importantly, I have loved recording answered prayers to be able to look back and see what has been answered and revealed over the years. Plus, if you are out of time or energy to journal on a regular basis, it can reveal an imbalance that you may not have noticed just yet. If you do not journal, I recommend trying it out, even if just for a season, and see the depth it can add to your life and faith walk.
  3. Passing on what you are learning to others. Humans have a tendency to learn better when they teach something to others. This is probably one of my favorite things about being a professor, as I learn my craft better and better each time I teach it to a group of new learners. There are even specific topics that I feel like I have come to almost master, recognizing there is always something new I can learn, because I have taught it so many times. The same goes for spiritual concepts; we learn them more when we share them with others and explain how we have learned them so they can potentially learn it too. It can also provide us a new perspective on what we have been learning, which could reveal any blindness we have been unaware of or confirm the truth we have uncovered. And who knows: maybe the one you are sharing with can benefit from the lessons as well. Again, if you find that you are out of time or energy or even people to share with, then it is probably a sign that imbalance has occurred and it may be time to re-evaluate and re-calibrate!

Our challenge then is this: Looking at the above options, what is one thing you can add to your life to move towards balance today??? For me, it is getting back to journaling. I have definitely been imbalanced in the past month, and I know because my journaling and writing (obviously) has not happened. In seeing this as I finally have time to write, I realize that I need it back in my routine to really cement the lessons I am learning and help ground me for the week. Hence I am back at it today… and will hopefully be able to keep it going in the days to come.What about you? Do you need to find a someone to support and challenge you and vice versa? Do you need to take that step to share with others what you are learning? Do you, like me, need to break open that journal and review, renew, and refocus (from Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald and the January Book Club)? Whatever it is… I encourage you to do so!

And just in case you need a little extra motivation… I am going to end with this statement from Rick that I cannot seem to get away from ūüôā

“God wants to redeem human beings from Satan and reconcile them to himself so we can fulfill the five purposes he created us for: to love him, to be a part of his family, to become like him, to serve him, and to tell others about him. Once we are his, God uses us to reach others. He saves us and then sends us out” (p.282). This is my mission and THIS IS YOUR MISSION too… should you choose to accept it. ‚ô•

 

Week Five: Shaped for Serving God aka “You might be a servant if…”

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servants-heart

Confession time: I obviously am familiar with a certain country comedian, Jeff Foxworthy, whose fame skyrocketed when he introduced a comedic line “You might be a redneck if…” as a segment on one of his shows that later turned into a book, comics, and countless internet memes and spin-offs. And while some of the additions have not been incredibly tasteful and even offensive at times, the majority of the descriptors associated with this phrase are actually quite funny, especially for those of us who grew up and take pride in being from the country (like myself).

So, although not a song, this one liner came to mind as I was reading through the fourth¬†segment of this book where Rick focuses on our fourth¬†purpose for living: being shaped¬†to serve God and others. Much like the redneck predecessor, Rick takes the time to paint a picture for us of what being a servant truly looks like, and how we can know if we are operating from a servant’s heart or just waiting around to be served.

You Might be a Servant if…

One thing I love about Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy on rednecks is that his witty one-liner allows listeners to determine whether or not they would be considered rednecks based on the respective descriptors and just how much they do or do not have in common with such a group. I remember listening to many of the things Jeff would mention, like “your mother has ammo on her Christmas list” or “you have ever mowed your grass and found a car” and laugh because I knew it was a perfect description of the way I grew up and my Southern roots. Other times, I would find myself laughing because it was in no way descriptive of me, but I definitely knew someone that it fit right on. Regardless of if it fit me or not, it was both funny and helpful to use his little “test” to determine where I stood in terms of my own redneck status.

Although not as humorous but much more important, I can imagine Rick walking on stage with a thick Southern accent and starting his own segment of “You might be a servant if…” Much like Jeff, he would present descriptors of being a servant that we can apply to our lives as well as those around us to determine our own servant status. As he noted in this week’s reading, you might be a servant if:

  • Your Actions Say So (Day 33): As we all know, our actions speak louder than our words, so whether or not you call yourself a servant really does not matter if your actions do not say it as well. Actions you can be on the lookout for to let you know that you are truly operating from a servants heart include: being available to serve, being attentive to areas of need/opportunities to serve around you, doing your best with what you’ve got, being dedicated to the task at hand no matter how big or how small, being faithful to the finish and completing the task no matter how big or how small, and being ok with being in the background versus the spotlight (and vice versa depending on your comfort level; I hate being in the spotlight but have ended up there on several occasions as a part of my service).
  • Your Thoughts Say So (Day 34): While our actions are helpful in determining our servant status, they do not give a complete picture when it comes to fully understanding the servant heart. I think all of us have met a few people out there¬†who serve with their actions, but the rest of them would really like to be elsewhere and they have no problem letting everyone know about it. Instead, you know you are a true servant if: you intentionally put others ahead of yourself both on the inside and outside, you seek to steward and not own the resources you are given (open, not closed hands), you intentionally focus on your own work and choose not to compare yourself and your work to others, you intentionally base your identity and worth in Christ and not the¬†actual service, and you intentionally see service requests as opportunities, not obligations.
  • Your Weaknesses/Limitations Say So (Day 35): As Rick encourages, it is important for us to maximize our strengths in serving, but sometimes this is not possible and regardless, due to our lovely human condition, we will always be faced with our limitations. Like other things though, it is really how we deal with our weaknesses and limitations that shows our true colors and helps us determine our servant status. In this case, you might be a servant if: you readily acknowledge and admit your weaknesses instead of trying to hide or deny them, you find contentment in recognizing you are not perfect and that God can often show Himself more in our weaknesses than in our strengths, you intentionally seek to share your weaknesses with others as a means of encouragement and testimony when appropriate, and you intentionally view your weaknesses as an opportunity to watch God work and give Him the glory (when I am weak, He is strong; 2 Corinthians 12:10).

If you have ever been around a true servant, you can tell that their¬†actions, thoughts, and use of their weaknesses are aligned in such an incredible way that it leaves a lasting impression. There is no doubt in your mind that they might be a servant… YOU KNOW THEY ARE. I am confident this is what it was like to be around Jesus, the ultimate servant, as He spent time continuously investing in the lives of those around Him and humbling Himself even to the point of feeding them and washing feet without grumble or complaint. What an encouraging and yet challenging role model!

How does this apply to me?

Once again, while this is nice material and yes, I can ask myself all of these things to determine my servant status, I still get stuck when it comes to the practical application and actually acting out my ministry and finding my niche for service. What does that look like? If I have determined that I am not currently a servant (and my answer to “you might be a servant if…” is a definite NO), what do I do? How do I determine where I should be serving so that I can move towards embodying all of those wonderful descriptors above?

Once again, I am so thankful for Rick and his practical, purposeful (pardon the pun) approach. In this case, he presents us with the SHAPE acronym (I LOVE ACRONYMS!!!!) to figure out how we were shaped for service and what that looks like. Let’s take a deeper look at what our SHAPE consists of:

  • Spiritual Gifts: These are the “special God-empowered abilities” (p.236) given to us for His service and are to be used in acting upon¬†the spiritual world around us. They typically are spiritual in nature and there are some great spiritual gift listings and assessments out there that can help you determine what yours might be (but you might want to check with your pastor or spiritual leader on this one). We often have more than one spiritual gift, although there might be a primary one, but none of us has all of the spiritual gifts. For instance, I know that I am called to evangelize through the Great Commission and I do seek to do so, but it is not one of my natural giftings. In contrast, I am drawn to and passionate about discipleship, and love walking through life with others teaching them and encouraging them in their faith. This is definitely one of my gifts, and I feel like I am on fire when I get the chance to do that.
  • Heart: These would be the “bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams, and affections you have” (p.237). In other words, they are the things you like and want to do instinctively; sometimes you do not even know why, you just know that you love it!! I know this might seem crazy to some, but God actually created us to LIKE serving Him and others! So, if you are dreading your current service or begin serving in a ministry and absolutely hate it, it might be that it does not fit the desires of your heart and it is outside of what your creation is. When I read this, I think about serving in the children’s ministry, which I currently do on a monthly basis. To be quite honest, and not because of anything specific to the ministry (I love our children’s ministry), I dislike my role in¬†it. I was not meant to serve in children’s ministry, and although I try my best to make it fun for the kids and be as useful as possible, it is draining and I dread it each month. If there was not a substantial need for safe volunteers, I would not be doing it, but sometimes the need trumps our desires and I do like being able to help. In contrast, my husband and I have served in youth ministry in some capacity ever since we were youth ourselves. This is totally in line with my heart’s desires and I get energized hanging out with teens and walking through life with them (again, discipleship ūüôā ). I would hate not being able to be a part of this ministry, and this confirms for me that it is a part of God’s specific heart and service design for me.
  • Abilities: These are the natural talents we have that can be used to act on the physical world around us (p.241). Just like the spiritual gifts, there is a wide variety of abilities available to humans, and we typically have a sampling of many although one or two may be primary and no one has all of them. These abilities often influence our career or hobby choices, such as being able to sing, build things, work with words, fix things, work with blood or medical issues, dealing well with heights or water, being athletic or academic, etc. For me, this one is obvious. I have never had athletic abilities (I am very good at watching sports, but anytime I try to play I usually get hit by something in the face :)) and I get queasy at even the thought of blood. However, I have always excelled with academics, loving to learn and write and teach. These are my natural abilities that have been maximized throughout the years, and now I can use them both for my career as well as my ministry.
  • Personality: These are the unique character traits that would be used to describe who we are, such as introverted or extroverted, and that often fall in line with what we like to do (p.245). Again, there are a variety of personality traits available, and each of us has our own unique combination that makes us exactly who we are. While we might have things in common with one another, I am the only me that exists and you are the only you. When looking for ministry opportunities and figuring out what service looks like for us, we should consider our personality and what is or is not a good fit for us. For me, I tend to be more introverted than extroverted, and so I flourish in service opportunities that allow me to be one-on-one with others or even serve all by myself ūüôā I still participate in big group ministries that are great for extroverts, but this is on a limited basis and more due to need than preference. Again, as you learn more about your shape, you will be able to determine a good service fit.
  • Experiences: These are the moments and events that create your history and have influenced your unique life story. Rick categorizes these into six specific types: family, educational, vocational, spiritual, ministry, and painful (p.246). When we look back on these experiences and glean from them any lessons we can learn about ourselves and our likes/dislikes as well as how we can relate to God and others, we can use all of this information in our service. Specifically, we can share these experiences as a testimony or use these experiences to open doors for further ministry. The main thing that comes to mind for me is my educational and vocational experiences that have allowed me to serve on mental health missions trips to both India and Africa. When working with these cultures, I was able to help train medical staff and missionaries as well as provide counseling services to people with leprosy or who are HIV positive because of the training and credentials God has orchestrated in my life. I love being able to use my education and training for Him and see the doors that have opened because of them!

When we take a practical look at each of these elements, it gives us a great starting point for finding our own ministry/service outlet as well as confirming that we are or are not in the best ministry for who we are.¬†I love the way Rick says it: “Using your shape is the secret of both fruitfulness and fulfillment in ministry. You will be most effective when you use your spiritual gifts and abilities in the area of your heart’s desire, and in a way that best expresses your personality and experiences” (p. 248).

Our Challenge:

With all of this in mind, the challenge this week is two-fold:

  1. Determine one thing you can do to experiment with your SHAPE in the coming month. I love that Rick encourages us not to try to discern our perfect ministry from the very beginning, but to just get out there and start serving and then see what works and what does not. I am all about this trial and error process, and have tried out several different ministries to get to know where I really thrive in serving (youth versus children). What is something that sounds like fun? Would you like to be a greeter? Would you like to sign-up to make meals for someone who is sick? What about serving as a small group leader or a Sunday school teacher or a nursery worker? The local church is full of ministry positions that need to be filled, so I challenge you to get out there and try something now.
  2. As you are experimenting and/or if you think you have found your ministry niche, use the above information to take inventory and see if there is legitimate alignment. Is your current service in alignment with your shape (round peg in a round hole)? Can you see the descriptors of a servant’s heart active in your life? Why or why not? And if why not, what is something that needs to change?

As we¬†continue on our¬†service journey and living out our shape, I do not believe any of us will really “arrive” this side of heaven, but I do believe that we can find our God-given place in His body, experience the amazing fit when our shape and service aligns, and pursue the servant’s heart we have seen in Jesus. Then, we too can laugh and smile when we hear “You might be a servant if…” because we know that we are.¬†‚ô•

 

***PS: I know we are SOOO BEHIND!!! I am working on catching up! ūüôā I have one more posting for Purpose Driven Life in the works and should be posting my first posting on the Strategy of Satan ASAP ūüôā Thanks ya’ll!!! :)***

 

 

April Book Club: The Strategy of Satan

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“You are not fighting for victory, but from victory, for Jesus Christ has already defeated Satan!” (p.x-xi)

Ever feel like everyday life is a struggle? That you are fighting an uphill battle? That you just seem to get a footing on solid ground and BAM!; something else happens and smacks you in the face or even knocks you completely out.

Sometimes, I do believe that this is just “life” and that yes, bad things happen everyday to both good and bad people. But sometimes, I also believe that there is a very real enemy waging a very real war against us and that compilation of relational, financial, and health struggles that you have been facing are a concerted attack on his part. This “him” would be the devil a.k.a Satan, who we do not regularly talk about (the church answer is Jesus right?!) but should be aware of since he is the one attacking us. Which is why getting to know him and how he attacks, or as Warren Wiersbe describes it, learning his strategies so we can detect and defeat him, is so very important.

 

Why I Chose this Book

I know that talking about Satan is often a taboo subject among Christians (weird, right?!). We can talk about God and Jesus and heaven all day, but begin talking about Satan and hell and everything gets quiet. No one wants to be the fire and brimstone pastor or the crazy Christian, and since we do not physically see demons all around us, I think sometimes it is easier to just avoid this part of our faith because it can be scary, a little out there, and not as loving or fun as everything else. However, scripture is very clear that Satan is real, that there is a legitimate spiritual battle taking place each and every moment, and that spiritual beings like angels, demons, and Satan himself are indeed real and active. Just because we cannot see them, does not mean they do not exist. And we not only need to be aware of their presence, but we are instructed to get our armor on and be prepared for this battle (not avoid it or flee from it; thank you Ephesians).

Honestly, this spiritual battle and the spiritual realm of Christianity has always been extremely intriguing to me. I used to love reading every fictional book I could on the topic (some of my favorites are Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti, and Bill Meyers) because it helped me be able to envision the spiritual reality taking place all around me and provide the motivation to be equipped and armored as instructed. ¬†So, it was no surprise that after falling in love with Warren Wiersbe’s writing, that I would be drawn to a book about Satan and how to both detect and defeat him in spiritual war.¬†And as usual, I was not disappointed.

This book, while no doubt of a more serious nature than the others we have read thus far, is still amazing and powerful.¬† As the quote at the beginning imparts, the beauty of spiritual warfare is that we already know the end result.¬† We already know we have the victory, even though it may not seem like it in the moment. For me, this is like being OK during the unpredictable part of a movie because I know the main character cannot die (there is a sequel LOL); I still watch it and enjoy the story, but I do not have to fret because I know he survives into the sequel. Same with this “fight” we’ve been enduring as we live under Satan’s attack; even though things are horrible and hurtful and devastating in the moment, we can hold to the hope that we already know the ending and are fighting FROM victory instead of FOR victory.

However, holding to the hope and still being a part of the fight requires understanding and strategy of its own. Thus, this book “is a manual of arms for the Christian soldier” (p.ix) that explores the truths in God’s Word in a practical and applicable manner for our fight. Much like a playbook or plan of attack, this book will help you understand why and how Satan is intruding upon your life as well as the weapons you have been divinely given to defeat him. If you have ever felt spiritually “attacked” at some point, possibly even now, then this book will make so much sense and be incredibly helpful. If you have never felt attacked, then I would say this book is a must-read, because as you continue to grow in your faith, I can guarantee the spiritual battle will affect you!

Tentative Schedule

Since we are already halfway thru April (yay Purpose Driven Life; yes, we still have 2 postings to go on this book as well), I am planning¬†to read this book on a daily schedule. There will also be a unique posting plan, since the chapters are not naturally grouped together like in previous months. For now, my plan is to read a chapter a day starting April 15th (although as we have seen‚Ķ it does not always happen ūüôā ). I will also (at this point) only be posting twice: once around April 26th to summarize and reflect on Chapters 1-4 and and once at the end of the month to speak to Chapters 5-10.

My Hope for This Experience

It has been a long time since I last read this book, but its timing could not be anymore perfect for me (surprise surprise… it seems that these books were divinely chosen for this year of my life). I am surrounded by reminders of spiritual warfare everyday: watching the struggles and trials of my loved ones, the injustices occurring all around, the crazy acts of terrorism that are happening more and more, and the lies I see plaguing both Christians and non-Christians alike. If there was ever a time to pick up a book on waging spiritual war, the time is now.

With that in mind, my hope for us as we embark on such a serious topic is that we will not do so lightly, but with a sense of the weight that comes with waging spiritual war and the focus to remember that above all else, we already have the victory through Christ. As Warren encourages, I hope that we will not try to speed-read through, but really pause, ponder, and pray through each of these points as we are reading. I pray that our eyes will be opened to the reality of spiritual warfare and the importance of understanding what that means and the part that we play. I pray that we will utilize this book and the truth it relays to equip us, empower us, and truly allow us to best utilize our armor to detect Satan where he is present and defeat the strongholds he has in and around us. May we not be overcome with fear, but press on in the hope and strength that we have access to through the Lord. “Onward Christian soldiers‚Ķ”‚ô•

Week Four: Created to Become Like Christ aka “You are What You Eat”

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Have you noticed all the choices that we have today? From what to watch to what to wear to what to eat, it often seems like the possibilities are endless. When I was growing up, we had only 2 grocery stores to choose from, cable only had 50 channels tops, and there were only really 3 restaurants in town. Now there are more than 5 different grocery stores within 20 minutes from my house, cable/satellite TV has over 900 channels (really??), and there are new restaurants opening  faster than I can count (even my parents are getting a Tropical Smoothie Cafe within 10 minutes from their house).

And while all of these options are great and definitely have their advantages, there are some distinct disadvantages that come along too. For instance, sometimes all of the choices can be overwhelming (where in the world are we going for dinner or what in the world should we watch) and lead to conflict if everyone does not agree. Additionally, not all of these options are best or healthiest for us. Included in those 900+ channels are several that I wish I could delete from everyone’s televisions because their content is both damaging and destructive. Included in those countless restaurants are fast food chains that are definitely fast, cheap, and easy, but as the picture above describes, the food does not have any true nutritional value for our bodies. We may feel full and our hunger may be momentarily satisfied, but in the end, we have not really increased our health. If we are not careful and vigilant, these disadvantages can take over and greatly decrease our health and quality of living.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. We have so many options for what we are going to focus on, who we can become, and what we can choose to allow to influence who we are. And while many people get lost or overwhelmed among the chaos, and some choose hurtful influences over their healthy alternatives, we as Christians are given a filter to discern and provide guidance among our options. Rick calls this filter our third purpose: becoming more like Christ, and living from this perspective allows us to evaluate each event/decision we encounter and determine the best course of action. Much like choosing a specific diet or eating lifestyle (LOL) that gives us parameters for what is best to eat as well as what not to eat, focusing on becoming like Christ gives us guidelines for how to protect and promote our spiritual health. In other words, regardless of the countless choices available, when it comes to both our physical and spiritual health, you are what you eat.

You are What You Eat

OK. So I realize that my catch phrase for this section might be a bit of a stretch, but at least it is not a song, right?! ūüôā Honestly though, the more I have pondered the “you are what you eat” mindset, the more I realize it really does resonate (at least for me) with this week’s readings. As this saying implies, what we choose to eat or the diet we maintain determines a lot about our physical health and quality of life. While the occasional fast food stop is not going to cause a heart attack or severely disrupt a healthy lifestyle (and yes, I do eat fast food and am not ashamed), a consistent fast food diet has been proven to be detrimental. In contrast, if we want to have a healthy body, then we need to watch what we ingest on a regular basis. If our normal diet consists of primarily fresh foods with a variety of meats, fruits, and veggies, this will result in a healthier body and a healthier you.

As noted above, the same principle applies to our spiritual lives: If we truly want to become like Christ, than we need to be intentional about what we “eat” or allow in to our minds/souls.¬† This means getting to know what a healthy spiritual diet looks like so you can make the most of the “food” that is available to you. Rick does a great job of breaking down the components of a healthy spiritual diet, which consists what I will refer to at the 3Ts: large amounts of TRUTH, moderate amounts of challenges aka TROUBLE, and as little TEMPTATION as possible. Let’s explore this spiritual diet plan a little bit further:

  • TRUTH: This is our spiritual protein, and should be one of the main components of our spiritual diet.¬† Not only does it satisfy our hunger, but it helps us grow healthy and develop strong spiritual muscle. And fortunately, we have a wonderful, endless supply of it right at our fingertips with the Bible, now forever in my mind as spiritual steak. Since we regard the Bible as the Word of God (or steak of God :)), it is not just a an airy feeling or empty belief, but a thick, heavy absolute that we can use as a foundation to build and grow upon. Our Bibles are filled with these proteinous (pretty sure I just created that word) truths that we can name and claim for every situation we encounter. So, as Rick describes (p.190-191), we need to be intentional about taking in and digesting as much truth as possible through memorization, meditation, and application (I feel like we’ve heard this before ūüôā ).
  • TROUBLE: In addition to spiritual protein, we also need a variety of spiritual fruits and veggies, which in this case involves the challenges or troubles we face in life. While not typically the favorite of the food choices (especially the veggies) for our physical diets due to their many textures, tastes, and seasons, fruits and veggies are actually good for us and contain helpful nutrients that supplement the proteins noted above. While a person may still survive without ever eating them (I know a lot of kids and adults that try), their physical health will surely suffer without these nutrients and the benefits associated with these plant-based foods. And as we have seen before, the same principle applies to our spiritual health: although not typically the favorite and occurring on a continuum of duration, severity, and seasons, we need the important lessons and byproducts of trouble to truly grow. If nothing else, trials can produce a sense of appreciation and value (for what we do have and when we overcome) that would not be available without some sort of risk/challenge. Because trouble tests us, it allows our true nature to be revealed, refined, and redeemed. So, how do we properly digest our troubles (all I can think of is with cheese on top, just the way I like my broccoli LOL ūüôā )? Rick tells us that we can embrace our trouble and do the following: remember God’s overall plan is good, rejoice and give thanks (yes, even in the midst of the trial) as much as possible, and refuse to give up/persevere (p.197-199).
  • TEMPTATION: These are the spiritual sweets and I am not talking fruits.¬† I am talking the high sugar, high fat, high yummy “treats” that taste absolutely amazing in the moment but have no nutritional value whatsoever! Often they look the best (hmmm… beautifully decorated cupcake or a brown banana??), smell the best, and sometimes even taste the best, but in reality do not promote our health at all.¬† And what does that mean in light of both our physical and spiritual diets? It means that if we really want to maximize our health, we need to stay as far away from them as possible (unlike sweets in the real world, where it is ok to have a piece of cake every now and then, temptations are pretty much never ok). So why is it still included in our discussion of spiritual foods? Because much like the luscious culinary treats that exist all around us (cakes, cookies, doughnuts, lattes, YUM), we are also surrounded with spiritual temptations that look like treats: a “romantic” extra-marital affair, just “one” celebratory drink ten times over to help us relax, a little multiple hour long “downtime” with our favorite TV show, and the list goes on. We can try to pretend that they do not exist by not talking about them, but the reality is that if we really want to be healthy, we need to confront and conquer their existence. The beauty of this category is that while these temptations are ever present in our lives, it is actually in the saying no and choosing something else (like a healthy helping of truth; chicken anyone??) that we find victory and empowerment.¬† It is this choice, and what we choose to do with these “foods” that will either complement or detract from our health. As I am learning in my own physical health walk, I can be eating a healthy diet of proteins and fruits and veggies, but if I am also ingesting a large amount of sugars, I will never be optimally fit and healthy. Same with our spiritual lives, if you really want to be at your best in becoming like Christ, you will look to limit and even remove as much temptation as possible from your life. How can we do this? As Rick shares (p.204-208), we can refuse to give up or be intimidated (just because you indulged yourself with a doughnut yesterday does not mean you have to again today), recognize where your weaknesses are (mine are sweet tea and chocolate; and speaking truth not in love and trying to control instead of trust), and request God’s help (grab an extra helping of truth to satisfy any hunger/craving). I would add to this to enlist others to “eat” with you to provide encouragement, accountability and support!

Recognizing the power of these 3 T’s combined is like understanding the power of actually eating a variety of proteins, fruits and veggies, while limiting sugars as much as possible: you will experience the amazing results of a healthy, fortified physical body that can withstand sickness, physical labor, and feels energized and ready to go. When we harness their power and purposefully ingest large amounts of TRUTH, understand and embrace moderate amounts of TROUBLE, and limit our intake of TEMPTATION, we will see similar results: a healthy, fortified spirit that can withstand difficulties, maintain motivation and focus, and has an energy and effectiveness in all that we do. I don’t know about you, but I get excited just writing/thinking about it. Somebody sign me up!!! ūüôā

How does this apply to me?

Wow. I will repeat and capitalize for emphasis: WOW. This section’s reading could not be more applicable to me and the season I have been in for a while now.¬† Not only have I been on a physical health kick and getting back to both working out and trying to eat right (which means bye bye fast, cheap, and easy ūüė¶ ) but I have also been on a renewed spiritual health journey (ditto).

At the end of last year (which I have shared about in previous posts), I noticed that I was definitely spiritually showing what I was eating: on the regular, I was either running on EMPTY or on the verge of CRASHING!  Instead of feasting on the truth and gleaning what I could from the troubles I was experiencing, I was alternating between starving myself (too busy, too tired, too behind to try again) or giving into my temptations (things like too much TV or too much sleep or anything else to keep me distracted) for that temporary high only to experience the crash that follows. I was caught in an unhealthy cycle, a spiritual eating disorder if you will, and it became obvious that something desperately needed to change.

Fortunately, as Rick describes, GOD WILL ALWAYS PROVIDE A WAY OUT of unhealthy patterns, thoughts, and behaviors. No matter what you or I am facing, there will always be a way to rise above, to flee from temptation, and to overcome in victory. This way out always starts in our minds (we have to think it to act on it), especially when it comes to our spiritual health. The thoughts in my head at that time were all negative “I’m tired and just need a break (sometimes this is legit, but mine was over and over and over again)” “I’ll try again tomorrow (knowing that I wouldn’t; I was just procrastinating)” or “I’ll never be able to get where I want to be, so why even try (total lie here).” I am pretty sure that if you take a look at your own thought life, you could point out a few negatives that are not helping your spiritual health (maybe physical too) as well. If I chose to continue to listen to these thoughts, I would be in the same place I was then, but thankfully, I looked for a way out and God was right there waiting (same goes for you ūüôā ).

For me, this meant getting my head (my mind) back in the game. I had to take a real, honest look and evaluate my current spiritual diet, which was severely lacking in the major food groups noted above. It also meant I had to do some intentional “meal planning” for the new year, and set myself up for success by setting goals, boundaries, and enlisting the prayer and support of trusted others.

Specifically, I started by making my times with God and in His Word a non-negotiable priority that was to occur first thing in the morning. This does not always mean that I get to read an entire chapter of scripture or pray for hours (although that sounds lovely), but I want to and do my best to start my day with the Lord. I have also made it a point to surround myself (my desk, bedroom, kitchen, bathrooms) with scriptures as my helping of truths that I can snack on throughout the day. These provide the positive thoughts to replace the negatives I shared above: “In my weakness, He is strong,””Make the most of every moment/do not put off for tomorrow what could be done today,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).”¬† I have also sought to eat my veggies/embrace my current troubles (my husband’s crazy work schedule, sleep deprivation with my littles, illnesses that tend to strike at the worst times, my mayhem in general) and surrender them to the Lord in prayer with thanksgiving (at least he has a job, my kids are healthy and alive at night, all of the illnesses thus far have been temporary and not life threatening, and there are miracles among the mayhem). Finally, I got serious about setting boundaries to protect and limit those temptations (no TV after 10pm unless special occasions, alarm on my phone to wake me up for quiet time in the morning, people in my life that would confront, challenge, and pray for me). It has not always been easy, and there have definitely been some hiccups along the way, but it has been completely worth it to see my spiritual health improve!!

Our Challenge:

There is so much about these readings that stands out to me, but one of the biggest takeaways is that much like becoming physically fit, becoming like Christ does not happen by accident nor is it automatic. As Rick explains, “It takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing” (p.179). This would be the essence of our challenge this week, consisting of the following steps:

  1. Take a look at your current spiritual diet. How would you describe it? How does it describe you? Maybe you are right on track, with healthy portions of proteins, veggies, and no sugars and are enjoying the benefits. Maybe, like me at the end of last year, you notice that you are spiritually starving and looking to those empty carbs to fill you up, when in reality you are crashing and lacking energy. Wherever you are, this becomes your starting point for the challenge.
  2. Take a look at your thoughts associated with your spiritual diet. Is your head in the game? Why or why not? If you are experiencing spiritual health, take note of the truths that have been most relevant in providing motivation, affirmation, and freedom and keep them to encourage yourself during difficult times and/or share with others that are struggling. If you are stuck in a mundane or unhealthy place, write out those negatives that are keeping you down (like I did above) and seek out some meaty truths to confront and conquer them.
  3. Take a look at the 3 T spiritual food groups described above. Is there anything missing or over-represented in your diet? Choose at least one thing you need to increase or decrease in your spiritual life right now to move towards greater spiritual health (more steak anyone) and share that with someone. Commit to including or excluding this thing for the next month, and then re-evaluate using these questions again.

Embarking on a new diet, whether physical or spiritual, can be intimidating at times, but I also find it can be exciting and refreshing when you are primed and ready for a change. I know it was for me, and I am praying it will be for you too! Because remember, when it comes to becoming more like Christ and really growing in this third purpose for our lives.. we are what we eat (is anyone else hungry??)! ‚ô•

 

 

 

Week Three: You Were Formed for God’s Family aka “We Are FAMILY”

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Last week, we discussed our initial purpose in life: being planned for and living for God’s pleasure. Recognizing this first purpose, we understand ourselves as being made out of His love to then love Him in return. We realize that we find ultimate fulfillment and a joy of our own when we live for Him, and when we do anything and everything unconditionally… just to see Him smile (you can hear the song, can’t you? ūüôā ).

Its amazing to me that God did not stop there, that He was not selfish in this love cycle He created. Instead, He knew that we would want others like us to be around in our lives just like He has others like Him around (the rest of the Trinity) and thus, He created more than one human (it is not good for man to be alone). Enter the first FAMILY, or grouping of connected humans, and our second major purpose in life: being formed for God’s family.

Apparently I am on a song kick, because this past week as I was reflecting on this concept of God’s family, all I could think of was that lovely pop 80’s style song : “WE ARE FAMILY… I got all my sisters with me!” ūüôā I even sang it so much that my 3 year old started singing it too and now it is one of his favorites (sarcastic yay). But seriously, the point of this song (other than to be catchy and make money) was to express the positivity of having family, being a part of a family, and knowing that you have all of your family members with you for fun and support. This is what God wanted for us when He initially created the family. However, as we can see from the original family, blood relatives are not always the best (I am pretty sure Abel felt that way), and along with our souls being damaged and in need of restoration with the entrance of sin, even the family is in need of redemption and thus, God responded with HIS family… or the creation of our spiritual family through the church.

We Are Family

What do you think of when you hear the word family? There are so many meanings in today’s world, and depending on your own experience with family, your thoughts and feelings could be positive or negative or typically, a nice mixture of both. And while there are definite negatives associated with the concept of family, as noted above, those are a result of our sinful, selfish, fallen condition and not what God originally intended. Instead, He meant for the family experience to be positive, and that is why He has given us a second family, our spiritual family comprised of other Christians, in which we can choose to live out the positive aspects of family life through His redemptive guidance and power. When we join God’s spiritual family, these are the benefits we can expect:

  • Living Life Together: One of the greatest things about family, both biological and spiritual, is that it is comprised of more than one person, which means you do not have to go through life alone. You have other people to live life together with, which involves people to share in the ups and downs and provide support, encouragement, and entertainment. With our biological families though, we do not get to choose who we are related to, and so we may still experience loneliness or isolation due to unhealthy dynamics, death, geographical distance, and/or trauma. This is why I love having a spiritual family available to live life with as well. While we technically do not get to choose our “relatives” here either, there are some options as to finding Christian brothers and sisters that we connect with and a church family that we enjoy being a part of. It has been awesome to experience that no matter where I live or where I travel, I can always find extended family members (other Christians) to be “together with” and journey through life. Especially since we currently live hours away from our biological family, it is our spiritual church family that we spend the majority of our time with, share many holidays with, and endure life’s challenges and joys together. If you are feeling lonely and your biological family is either far away or unavailable, I highly encourage you to look for support from your spiritual family: is there a local bible study forming where you could get to know people? What about a local service organization where you could serve with others? If there is a church or missions organization nearby, there is never a time where you would have to be alone. Growing up as an only child, this is music to my ears (LOL)!
  • Cultivating Character Building Community: In addition to having an extended family to share life with, our spiritual family exists with a definitive purpose that many of our biological families lack (although some biological families have this as well): they exist to cultivate our character to become more like Christ. Family from this perspective is not just about keeping a name going or extending a bloodline, but it is about building each other up, holding each other accountable, encouraging each other to find freedom from our sinful past and move towards the freeing future Christ has for us, and helping each other achieve the things God has set before us.¬† When we live life together, we get the chance to do all of the above as well as confess to each other the things we are struggling with, proclaim the things we are excited about, observe each other as we walk in Christ, and share our convictions and constructive criticisms to encourage growth and insight. It is not always comfortable, but being in a spiritual family that cultivates your character is always beneficial.
  • Experiencing Opportunities for Growth through Challenges: While we can have fun living life together and cultivating our characters, being in a spiritual family, just like in our biological family, is not always roses and butterflies. People will still say and do hurtful things, and we will have to determine how we will respond.¬† Fortunately, because with our spiritual family (and sometimes in our biological family as well) we have Christ at the center, we can look at any challenges and conflicts we face as opportunities to live out His love, forgiveness, and reconciliation with each other. Using Matthew 18 and the steps outlined for resolving conflicts within the church and our spiritual family, this¬†means we can lovingly consider, confess, confront, and continue to live life together.

While God does want us to be able to experience all of these benefits of being a part of His spiritual family, I am not naive to think that every church experience is like this. I have been involved with church families that are not beneficial, could be described as toxic, and have lost sight of Christ in the midst of everything else. Because our spiritual family is still comprised of sinful humans, we still have negative experiences amidst the positive. However, if each of us intentionally seeks to live out the benefits noted above; If I seek to live life with you, cultivate our characters to become more like Christ, and utilize the challenges we may face as opportunities for growth, then we can move towards the positive, redemptive experience Christ has in store for us as spiritual brothers and sisters. If your current spiritual family is not doing these things and you are not experiencing the benefits as listed above, then it may be time to prayerfully consider another church family that has similar goals and intents to live out the purpose and plan God has for His family.

 How does this apply to me?

This whole concept of family, both biological and spiritual, is under attack. With a variety of enemies (selfishness, pride, infidelity, revenge, manipulation, etc.), our fallen human condition is often on autopilot to destroy and divide instead of build up and unify. We can see it in our biological families as divorce and death and drama divide us, and these same divisive forces exist in our churches. I personally come from a biological family rampant with division and drama, even to the point of many of my family members no longer talking to each other and being cut off. I am fortunate to have grown up in a strong spiritual family and have always been a part of my local church, but even here I have experienced some of my deepest hurts and faced some of my most significant challenges.

And this is why I am so glad that Rick ends this section’s reading with a focus on the importance of protecting our family. I have been so convicted about this lately in my own heart and life. I know how to love God and be in relationship with Him on my own (being an only child really helped me with that), but living out this love with a family (both biological and spiritual) is totally different. Honestly, it is often a huge struggle for me. While I truly love loving others (it is one of my main passions), there are times when staying home sounds so much better, especially since any event outside of the home (or even in my home for that matter) has morphed since having kids. Not only is it difficult to make it to things, but then expending energy and effort while attending seems even more of a stretch.

However, as I have pondered and prayed, God has really laid it on my heart that there are specific things I can do to purposefully protect and prosper my spiritual family, which I believe starts with my marriage and then extends to my church family.  These things include, but are not limited to, what I am going to refer to as the 5 Ps (to help my memory):

  1. Praying: I need to be purposefully and actively praying for the family in my life (both biological and spiritual). For me, this means my husband, my children, my parents, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the leadership at my church (elders and lead ministers and families). And while any type of prayer is helpful, I have recently felt lead to pray for each of them by name… to truly battle on their behalf through the power of prayer. While there are many others things I pray for on a regular basis, including loved ones and missions and circumstances, etc., I want to make sure that my family is included, even when they are not currently requesting or seemingly “in-need” of prayer.
  2. Prioritizing: In addition to praying for my family, I know I need to put first things first. In this case, it means making time for my home life first (and ensuring this is in order), then my church family second, and then the other miscellaneous things (like pre-school, art class, work, etc.). When I set aside time in my day or week to attend to these people first, it really makes all the difference for them and for me because they have no doubts of how important to me they are and I do not have to be “stressed” because I know that I have already taken care of what is most important. For me, this means getting up earlier or staying up later than everyone else to get my things completed (quiet time, exercise, shower etc) so that I can make others my priority when they are around.
  3. Participating: When I do prioritize and set aside the time for my family, I want to go beyond just checking that box and actually make sure there is quality time, not just a quantity of time. I love that Rick describes this with the term “focused attention” (p.127) or ensuring that you are present in the moment and attending to the person/people that are with you. For me, this means intentionally putting away my phone or computer and interacting with my children or husband during our times together so that I can focus my attention on them without the distractions of text messages or email or Facebook. It also means not worrying so much about taking pictures of every moment, but actually living those moments (as my 3 year old so often reminds me).
  4. Promoting: This is a big one for me as it means being intentional about focusing on and pointing out the positives of my family. This does not imply that negatives do not exist or that they should not be dealt with, but I find so often that if I choose to dwell on these negative reminders of reality, I miss out on all of the great things taking place as well. For me, I have to be intentional about focusing on and promoting the positives, both to myself as well as when I am speaking to others. A great example of this can be found when considering my church family: do I seek to promote the positives of what they are doing well? Or do I have a tendency to be super critical and only focus on the negatives and things they could do better? To be honest, I have been more on the critical side lately, and it has all been small, insignificant things that I have been judging. When I really step back and think about my church family, there are so many positives that I would much rather promote (the way we love, the way we reach out to the community, the way we invite in and love the broken).
  5. Persevering: I am a firm believer that once you are a part of a family (whether biological or spiritual), you are always a part of that family (although this does not mean that you never change churches; it just means that you are always a child of God at each church you attend). And this means you may at times feel stuck with certain people or in certain places, but I encourage you (and me) to persevere; to remain steadfast in our endeavors to pray, prioritize, participate, and promote with our families. For me, this means applying the 5 Ps¬†in my marriage even when times get rough, staying and seeking to love my children even when they are disobedient and frustrating, and sticking with my church family through the great times and the difficult times (church crisis, current construction, etc.). As promised (Romans 5:3-5), I have found that this persevering results in good things… both for me and for my family!

Our Weekly Challenge:

So when it comes to our family, the challenge for this week is actually two-fold (I know… the posting was late and now there are 2 challenges, but bear with me, they are worth it!!):

  • Examine how you are currently living out Purpose #2: Being Formed for God’s Family in regards to your spiritual family.

How would you describe your current understanding of family? Is it only biological, only spiritual, or a mixture of both? How does this description match up with God’s family as described above? Do you currently belong to a church family and why or why not? If the answer is no, this is where I encourage you to start. While it is easy to find a listing of local churches on the internet, I have found that word-of-mouth is really the best way to find a church. The past two church families we have been a part of were recommended by friends, so this may be a good place for you to start as well. Or maybe you just noticed the sign or live within walking distance, and both of those can work too. No matter how it happens, to start reaping the benefits noted above, the first step is to find and get involved with your local spiritual family.

  • Once you are actively involved in your spiritual family, examine the quality of your interactions.

Are you proactively, purposefully protecting the family that you have? Are you present and participating? Take a look back over the 5 Ps noted above and determine if there is something(s) that resonates with you that you could start doing today. It may be for your husband, for your pastor and his wife, for the people in your small group, or even the lady that always sits in the second seat in the second row at second service on Sunday ūüôā Whatever it is, I pray that you and I will purposefully act to protect and promote the family God has given us… that we may be able to sing (at the top of our lungs if you would like) that… “We are FAMILY… I got all my brothers and sisters with me! ” ‚ô•

 

Week Two: Planned for God’s Pleasure aka “Just to See Him Smile”

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smile

As humans, we are all about smiles. From the very first smile of an infant to the warmth of a kind smile from a stranger, the smile is one of our best non-verbal communicators.¬† We even have a range of emoticon smiles to choose from so that we can send smiles to each other over text (or email; my students always make fun of me because I am constantly smiling when I type ūüôā ).¬† When its been a great day, a beaming smile shares in the celebration and joy. When its been a bad day, a sympathetic smile offers encouragement, support, and hope.¬† When we are in love, there is nothing better than bringing a smile to the face of our beloved (which in turn, usually makes us smile as well).

So when reading this week and thinking all about smiles, I could not get the chorus of an old Tim McGraw song out of my head. Now I get to share it with you (your welcome):

“Just to see you smile; I’d do anything… that you wanted me to…

When all is said and done, I’d never count the cost; It’s worth all that’s lost…

(ooo ooo) Just to see you SMILE.”

I first loved this song, and its catchy little tune, when I was young and in love and would listen with dreamy eyes and a goofy grin on my face thinking about my boyfriend (now husband). It was summer and the windows were down and we were driving along a country road in the truck and my heart and smile were all a glow (yes, this is actually for real). And when hearing this song since, I always think about him and the romantic context of the song, wanting to do anything and everything to make each other smile (I probably still get the goofy grin).

However, this past week, I heard this song with new ears and a new thought:

Have I ever considered God smiling?

I have envisioned God in multiple public contexts; angry and lightening in his eyes when His wrath is in full rage; eyes closed with silent strong tears, the lines in His face deep and furrowed with grief when sin hurts one of His children yet again; bright and shining and brilliant when standing strong and radiant in all of His glory (so bright that there is not actual facial recognition). Personally, during my quiet time though, I’ve always pictured Him with a serious but soft expression, the perfect balance of grace and justice. All of these I would use to describe my God at different times. But never with a smile.

And yet, this is exactly what Days 8-14 were all about. As Rick focused on Purpose #1 of our lives, he explains that our primary purpose revolves around the fact that we were planned for God’s pleasure. We were created as His children, and much like the motives of many parents today, the whole point in having children was to enjoy His creation and this enjoyment usually brings about the anticipated response: a smile. In essence then, we were created and are here to see God smile.

Just to See Him Smile

In the lyrics above (which you can YouTube to hear as well), Tim McGraw sings an ooey gooey love song about how he would do anything to make his girl smile.¬† While I do not agree with all of the verse lyrics (if you listen to the rest of the song, there are some unhealthy relational dynamics taking place; but that is a different posting), I love the chorus and how he seeks to put his beloved first and selflessly love her no matter the cost to himself.¬† Since most women dream of being pursued by such a partner, the song became a huge hit and even I can remember being captivated and hoping for the same attention of a special someone who would do anything “just to see me smile.”

While this seems standard for romantic relationships, Rick explains that this same dynamic can and should apply to our relationship with God.¬† Our primary purpose, which we have heard before, is acted out through a lifestyle of worship or in other words, living “just to see God smile.” This means we can take Tim’s lyrics above and use them to remind us of how we can live to see God smile. Let’s take a closer look:

“Just to See God Smile…

  • I’d do anything, that He wanted me too…”

The first thing that hits me here is the expanse of this lyric. Note the word ANYTHING… In the context of human relationships, this usually means spending time, money, and effort on the other person. It may occasionally require more, like re-locating or finding a new profession with less responsibilities, but typically the ANYTHING is exciting because of the love that is behind it.

Do we see doing ANYTHING for God in the same light?¬† I’ll do ANYTHING that He wants me to. This anything covers so many things, but Rick gives us some specific examples in our readings of what this might actually look like. In this context, anything includes but is not limited to: loving Him, trusting Him, obeying Him, expressing our gratitude to Him, using the gifts He has given us, talking to Him all the time, thinking about Him and meditating on His word, being honest with Him even when we are angry or upset or doubtful, valuing what He values, getting to know Him for who He really is (not who we think He is but what His word actually reveals to us), persevering and continuing to pursue Him even if we feel He is distant, and making Him a priority in our lives. If we are operating from a place of love, then these things also become exciting as we live out that love in our expression of the anything that makes Him smile.

  • When all is said and done, I’d never count the cost… Its worth all that’s lost.”

So not only is Tim willing to do anything for his girl, but he will not even keep track of how much it costs him, because it is totally worth it. This definitely sounds like how God loves us, especially when it comes to sacrificing His own son, but does it accurately describe how we love Him?

This would mean two main things to me: 1. that we would not keep track of how much doing our “anything” costs us (in time, money, effort, comfort, sleep, etc.) and 2. that we see doing our “anything” as more valuable than the costs we are not keeping track of (time, money, effort, comfort, sleep, etc.). In a world that is obsessed with keeping track of everything (calories, salaries, weather, if you can record it… there is an app to keep track of it I’m sure!), it seems crazy to consider not keeping track of the ANYTHING we have done for anyone, but especially for God. But this is how we want to be loved (as Tim so nicely croons) and it makes sense to me that God might like that kind of love too. Instead, we convert these costs into investments, and choose to see them in a positive light. In the human context, every dollar spent, sleepless night, and dinner out is an investment in the relationship to come. The same applies to our relationship with God; if we are truly living to see Him smile, then all of the “anything” we are doing, even if it is quite costly, is an eternal investment in our relationship with Him.

How does this apply to me?

If I take these two lyrics and their meanings to heart, it totally changes my understanding of what it looks like to live out my faith from a practical perspective. For instance, anything really means anything. On a daily basis, my anything can span from changing dirty diapers (every.single.day) to extending discipline with grace to a disobedient preschooler to making a meal to feed my family to doing my best with my teaching and grading to checking in on and praying for my friends to doing yet another load of laundry to staying up another sleepless night to comfort a crying little guy. Notice it does not say: I will do the biggest, greatest, most public and awesomest thing ever for you. Nope, it says anything… which encompasses the big and the little but most importantly, the things that your beloved wants most. This one is not so difficult for me; I had to figure out long ago that if I was going to find meaning in the most menial and mundane of the daily tasks I complete, I would have to see it as if doing it for the Lord, which gives me a great sense of purpose when cleaning and cooking and hanging out with my kiddos. Since God has called me to be a wife and mother and friend, etc., each of the tasks I complete within these roles is doing my anything. Sometimes I lose sight of it (as noted in last week’s posting on perspective), but most often, I’ve got this one down.

To be completely transparent, its the second lyric that I struggle with the most. This week, as I was praying and pondering and writing, I realized that I have a tendency to keep track of my “anything” (both against my husband as well as against God) and occasionally like to remind both of them of all that I am doing for them. I use my records as leverage or to justify something that I want in an effort to control our relationship, because like many other humans, I have a tendency to operate from an if…then… mentality.¬† If I do this for you, then you will do this for me. But in reality, this is not how I want to be treated and this is not how true love works.

I do not have to remind God of all that I have done for Him so that He will love me or care for me or be there for me; He does that already. And His love will not change based on what I do or do not do for Him.  What I do for Him is really about me expressing my love to Him in return.  When I see it in this light, I do not have to keep track or count the costs, because I can see them as the investments and gifts that they truly are (same goes for my husband; If I am really being the wife that I want to be, then the investment of my anything is worth any cost; but that is another posting yet again).

Our Weekly Challenge:

What about you? Do you see the tasks around you: your work, your family roles, your ministries, your schoolwork, your marriage, your parenting, etc., as the ANYTHING you would do to see God smile? Are you keeping track of all these things and counting them as costs or do you see them as investments? What would it look like if we really took these lyrics to heart and applied them to our lives?

This week, I encourage you to start with the first lyric: Are you willing to do anything to see God smile? Anything? For real ANYTHING? ūüôā Yes, for real ANYTHING.

I’m betting that you probably have a good idea of at least ONE thing that God has wanted you to do with your life that would result in a smile on His face. I know I do. It might be choosing to keep loving a certain someone even though it may be frustrating, continuing in a certain job even though its not your favorite, stepping up in a certain ministry role although you are a little insecure or out of your comfort zone, or maybe even something fun like saying Yes to a vacation because its been years and God wants you to enjoy this world He has created.

And then add in the second lyric: Convert any costs to investments.

It is important to note that this may be easier during different seasons of life. Even though you may be sacrificing some money as a tithe, some time on Wednesday nights for ministry, and some sleep one weekend a year to volunteer at a Youth Conference, you are still having fun and so the “costs” do not feel so bad. But what about when life gets hard? When the ANYTHING is something that is not fun or what you really want to do? When the job is still difficult but He does not open another door (because maybe He has a reason for you to be there), when the husband/wife keeps getting further and further away be He does not release you from the marriage and asks you to keep praying, keep pursuing, when the healing does not come but He encourages you to live every moment that you still have in hope versus fear? This is when we are really encouraged to choose to see the eternal investment, to show our love back to Him, and to sing the song over and over again in our hearts as we press on. I do not expect that it will always be easy, but I do know that I choose to see the difficult anythings as my investment in both the present and the future.

I don’t know about you, but I am actually excited to see what this will look like as I implement it in my life. I know that so far, from having a head start (since this posting has taken me about a week to get together), I have found myself humming the tune off and on with a lighter heart and focused intent to see my anything as an investment throughout the day. I pray that you will too, and that together we can live out our initial purpose of being planned for His pleasure and make His “ANYTHING” a priority in our lives … just to see Him smile.‚ô•