Trash Talk

At my house, we have a trash drawer. I don’t mean a junk drawer, although we have one of those too.  This is a drawer in our kitchen specially designed to hold a trash can.  When you want to throw something away, you open the drawer, put in your trash, and then shut it.  I suppose this is to keep the trash can out of sight and keep the kitchen tidy.  For the most part, it works pretty well.  The glitch comes, as you might expect, when the trash can is full.  As is human nature, we tend to overfill the trash can rather than empty it.  I’m guessing that this is a common happening in many homes.  The difference with the trash drawer set up comes when you shut the drawer on a trash can that is full beyond its limits.  The garbage overflows into the back of the drawer where it keeps the drawer from closing correctly and becomes difficult to get out.  It turns a routine chore into something a little more time-consuming and aggravating.Image result for trash drawer image

 

From my perspective, the best approach is obvious. Empty the trash can when it is full.  Simple.  Another option is to leave the trash can full, but leave the drawer open and hope someone else empties the trash.  The third scenario, the shove-the-trash-down-and-shove-the-drawer-shut option, is unfortunately an all too common practice at our house.

 

The other day, as I was extracting trash from the back of the drawer, I was thinking about how this is similar to something that happens inside of us. We all have trash, attitudes and actions that need discarded, that keep us from being the best version of ourselves (to borrow a phrase from Matthew Kelly).   When we think of the yucky stuff in our hearts, we can all agree that it piles up just like the trash in the kitchen.  And over and over, we are faced with a decision.  Do we empty the trash, or do we push it down and try to hide it?  It’s not going to go away by itself.  And just like the trash in my kitchen, the longer we procrastinate and the more we try to close the drawer so people can’t see it, the worse off we are.

 

This seems pretty obvious, and sounds logical to me. It’s easy to agree about the generalities of keeping your inner self clean, but I took it a step further.  I have been pondering specifically what trash I have, and what it means to address it before it overflows and stops things from working the way they are designed to work.

 

I have been thinking of the instruction given by Paul, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2).  It surprised me to find the same words used by Jesus in a well-known passage, Matthew 11:28-30.  “ ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ “

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Humble and gentle. Gentle and humble in heart.

Too often, I find the opposites in me: proud and harsh. In fact, I would say that the vast majority of my trash can be attributed to pride and self-centeredness.  Ouch.  I’m also pretty sure that there are lots of times that I ignore those attitudes and the thoughts and actions that flow from them, pushing them down and closing the drawer on them so at least they feel hidden.

 

What does it mean to empty my inner trash? How can I get rid of proud and self-centered and become more humble and gentle like Jesus?

 

First of all, I have to see the trash. In today’s world, we often go through our days in survival mode and at a break-neck pace, fulfilling demands and putting out fires and sometimes missing what is important because there is so much that feels urgent.  In that framework, it is pretty hard to notice when I am acting or speaking out of pride and with my own interests first.  Paying more attention to what’s going on inside me as I go through the day is a necessary step to seeing where there is trash to empty.  I think it is helpful to think of some triggers to remind me to stop and evaluate the status of my internal trash can.

 

One trigger is when I start to see other people’s trash. Jesus’ message, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5), is great advice about remembering to look for trash in yourself.  For some reason, no matter how busy I am, I do find time to notice things that other people could improve.  My goal is that when I find myself thinking about what’s less than perfect in someone else, I take that opportunity to find and empty my own pride and self-centeredness.

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Another trigger is found in the words of Jesus I mentioned earlier. Jesus said that if we are in need of rest, we should learn from Him, the One who is gentle and humble in heart.  When I start to feel frustrated or worried, that is the opposite of rest.  Those feelings are usually an indicator that I am not living in the Jesus way of humility and gentleness and that there is trash to empty.   When I find myself frustrated or worried and lacking rest, I want to pause and find the trash in me and move it out.

 

So, how do I get rid of the trash? Yes, first I have to see it, but how do I change it?  The great news is that I don’t have to do it by my own will-power.  Take it from David, a man who had some trash that needed to go.  Psalm 51 records his prayer that God would clean him up.  In verse 7 he says, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” and in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”  The way to get rid of the things need discarded from inside me is to let God do it.  If I am willing and ask, He does the cleaning. Sounds too good to be true, but try it!

 

My sister reminded me of a song we used to listen to in the 80’s, by David Meece. I had forgotten all about it, but the lyrics are just right for trash removal…

Replace It With Your Love

David Meece

Where there’s hate give me love
Where there’s pride make me be humble
Where there’s pain don’t let me feel resentment deep inside
I want You to make it right

So replace it with Your love in my heart
Replace it with Your love in my heart
Just take out all the hatred and cleanse every part
And replace it with Your love in my heart

When I’m tired lift me up
When I’m weak, Lord, don’t let me falter
But if I fall, don’t let me harbor bitterness inside
I want You to take it out

Lord, I’m just a man who wants to be like You
Living in Your perfect love in everything I do
So now I’m yielding I’m yielding all to You
To take out every wrong I feel inside
So replace it with Your love in my heart
Replace it with Your love in my heart
Just take out all the hatred and cleanse every part
And replace it with Your love in my heart

If you have time, listen to the song :).

 

Just like emptying the kitchen trash, emptying the heart trash is a job that we get to do over and over again, and making a habit of doing it instead of putting it off makes life smoother and better.

 

Jesus, thanks for Your words about being humble and gentle. As I go through each day, help open my eyes to my pride and self-centeredness. Remind me to take it to You and let You replace it with Your love. Thank You that You love me in my mess and that You empower me to become clean.

-Leah

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Quicksand

Ever feel like you are in over your head? Like you’re fighting a losing battle, and the situation is too hard, too much, and you are certainly not enough? Of course you have. We’ve all been there at one time or another and to one degree or another. Some of us feel this in our daily lives, that overload and stress from expectations we place on ourselves or allow others to place on us. Sometimes it hits much harder. A painful relationship, a serious illness, a toxic work environment, the death of a loved one. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that seem insurmountable or unbearable.

I recall one such time in my life. The situation was difficult, it certainly was not what I had expected/planned, I felt like I was flailing and failing. I was worried about how it would play out for my family. I was hurting. As I stood in church, singing the closing song, my mind suddenly went to Mary. I thought about how she had been asked to do something very difficult.

Let’s take a minute to read the details…

“…the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’

Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?

The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-38 (NRV)

So a young girl, probably a teenager, gets the news that she has been chosen to carry Jesus. This is a great honor, but not without cost. She surely understood, at least to some extent, that this was going to change her previous life plan and cause some suffering. I love what she said as all this was dawning on her, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She was willing.

I thought about Mary that Sunday morning in church, and I realized that I had also been chosen. In a way that was very different and yet somehow similar, God had chosen me to be in the difficult place in which I was finding myself. I was also being given the opportunity to “carry Jesus.” It was not the way I had envisioned it would be, and there was brokenness involved, but this was where God had placed me. My heart responded, “Let it be with me, according to Your word.” And then I sang with the congregation,

And I will fall at your feet

I will fall at your feet

And I will worship you here.

I will worship You, right in this hard place. It was a powerful moment in my life, a change of heart. I was right where I was supposed to be, and my role was to worship.

This reminds me of Bear Grylls. Ever heard of him? He is the survival guy that is forever putting himself (voluntarily, which is crazy!) into survival situations, and then demonstrating how to get out alive and in one piece. I once saw him in quicksand. He let himself get sucked in until he was good and stuck. The muck was up above his waist. From his quicksand pulpit, he emphasized the key to escape. Do not struggle and fight. All that does is drag you down and get you more hopelessly stuck. Apparently what is deadly about quicksand is not so much getting swallowed up but being immobilized and exposed to the sun.

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I love the analogy here! When we find ourselves in something sticky and challenging, immobilized and overwhelmed, we should not struggle and fight. We need to calm down and be still. David had learned this even before Bear Grylls. He wrote what he had heard, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 One translation reads, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”

The default reaction if you are in quicksand is to panic and try to get out. The default reaction in challenging situations is similarly to worry and fret and try to make a plan to get out. We need to remember that the better way is to surrender, to “let go and let God.”

Many times when I am talking with people about difficult times they are dealing with, they mention the Serenity Prayer.

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God, grant me

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference

Maybe we can expand on that:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. God, help me to accept that You have a plan and that You are able. I don’t have to struggle to change my circumstances. Teach me to rest in You.

The courage to change the things I can. Give me the courage to say “Yes,” to what You are doing and to let myself be changed by it. Help me to change my mindset from stuck to still and to learn to worship.

And the wisdom to know the difference. Show me when my effort is moving me toward You versus when my activity is just adding to my frustration and immobility.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” Psalm 40:1-3

-Leah

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Keep an Even Keel

People are fascinated by shipwrecks. There are songs and movies and books immortalizing details of the sinking of the Titanic and the Edmund Fitzgerald, as well as many other nautical disasters. Most of the time if you want to see what’s left after a ship sinks, you have to be a diver, but this summer, my family was able to see two Lake Superior shipwrecks on a glass-bottomed boat tour. One of the sites showed remains of the Herman H. Hettler, a wooden steamer that sank on November 23, 1926. The ship had hit a reef, and after it sank, it was a hazard for other ships traveling in the area, so several years later, it was dynamited. Of course, the ship itself is no longer in one piece, but we were able to see remnants, including the commode and bathtub from the captain’s quarters!

One thing that we could see well as we passed over the site, was the ship’s keel. 102 years later, after a hitting a reef, sinking, and being dynamited, the keel is still there. Prior to this, I didn’t know much about keels. Actually, a few weeks before our trip, I had been contemplating the phrases “even keel,” and “smooth sailing,” thinking of them as they apply to how things go for us on a day by day basis. I didn’t have any sense at all of what “even keel” meant in a nautical sense. Now that I have a seen a keel, the concept is even more meaningful.

The keel is like the backbone of the ship; it is the piece that runs through the center of the hull from front to back (fore to aft?). The components of the bottom and sides of the boat all connect to the keel.

When one thinks about what “even keel” means, balance and steadiness come to mind. A calm unruffledness, regardless of circumstances, an ability to roll with the punches. “Even keel” is about the boat. “Smooth sailing” is about what is going on outside the boat. Smooth sailing is great, and given a choice, I will choose it over stormy seas every time. But even better than smooth sailing is that internal peace that keeps my boat from rocking too much, even in high waves. The key to that steadiness is what lies at the center of my life, the keel of my boat, if you will.

It reminds me of a picture that Jesus painted about how the stability of a house depends on its foundation. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Life keeps making waves. To me, the waves are like negative emotions-feelings of fear or anger or depression or worry or inadequacy, among others. And even though I have built my life’s boat around Jesus, I don’t always have that inner peace and stability that I crave. I am too often pushed around by how I feel and exhausted by trying to stay on course. I think the key is to live centered on my faith and focused on eternity, and to re-center and re-focus when I start to wobble. To consciously turn my attention back to Jesus and stop watching the waves rolling in.

People have been working on this for centuries. Brother Lawrence lived at a monastery in the 1600’s. He made it his goal to spend all his moments connected to Christ, whatever he was doing. He talked about communicating with God even in the mundane, and since he worked in the kitchen, his mundane was peeling potatoes. Peeling potatoes, washing dishes, whatever his task was, he would remind himself to re-direct his thoughts to God. This is simple, as in “not complicated,” but not simple as in “easy.” The book The Practice of the Presence of God that records his thoughts and conversations on this subject is powerful, especially in that it reminds us that living this way takes practice.

The outcome of staying focused on Jesus, is a greater awareness of His presence, and His presence is glorious. This may just be what Paul means when he talks about “the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

I don’t have much (or any) hope for keeping an even keel on my own, but when I realize that the keel of my ship is Jesus and when I repeatedly work on staying connected to Him, glory happens.

Clear back in the fifth century, St. Patrick (yes, the guy who gets us pinched if we don’t wear green on March 17) prayed,

“Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.”

Jesus said He wants this glory for us. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me.” (John 17:24)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Life is not always smooth sailing. There are big storms and windy weather, and it can get pretty choppy. May we center our lives on Jesus, and practice re-connecting to His presence no matter what we feel. May we experience the “even keel” life and inspire others to do the same.

God, thank You for being my center, my foundation, my keel. When my emotions have me feeling off balance and distressed, help me to remember the truth that You are stable and strong. Help me to connect to Your presence and experience Your glory.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

-Leah

Let There Be Light

Last week I found what I had been looking for – a framed photo of light shining into a forest. I had discovered a similar piece while we were on vacation in August, 2017, and purchased it, planning to hang it in my new office. But the office completion was delayed, and before I could get the picture there, it found its way onto my bedroom wall. I love waking up and seeing the sunlight pouring through the trees, making the grass of the forest floor such a vibrant green. Last week, back at Tahquamenon Falls in the upper peninsula of Michigan, I was able to find something similar for my office. They had many beautiful scenes available, but I kept going back to the ones featuring the sun breaking through.

Life can seem pretty dark at times. Sometimes a pitch black of grief, despair, or depression, like when they turn all the lights off in Ohio Caverns and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Sometimes dark and foggy confusion that keeps you searching for landmarks, slows you down, and stresses you out. Sometimes overcast and gloomy, like a heavy mood or anger. Sometimes there is a shadowy darkness of evil, sinister and almost palpable.

There is something so beautiful and alive and comforting about light, especially sunlight. And there is something like sunlight that shines into our lives and lifts us out of dark places. I’m sure you’ve had those moments, where you sense the warmth and the glow of light entering your soul.

Wouldn’t it be great to have that energy present all the time? To live in the light and never have to deal with darkness?

Check out God’s message to His people written by Isaiah:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-

When you see the naked, to clothe them,

And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

And your healing will quickly appear;

Then your righteousness will go before you,

And the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

You will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,

With the pointing finger and malicious talk,

And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

Then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;

He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

Like a spring whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:6-11

There are many instances in the Bible when we are told that God is light, and to be close to God is to be in the light. What I love about these words from Isaiah is that we are given some insight into things we can do that will result in more light in our lives. While the actions listed vary in scope, encompassing work towards ending oppression, feeding the hungry, providing clothing, and even being present and available to your family, they all involve focusing on others with the intention to meet their needs. When we need light the most, when we are hurting, struggling, stressed, angry, confused, we get relief and healing by serving others. This really works!

I remember Sheila Cupples, who had been fighting cancer and dealing with the side effects of cancer treatments for years. She started her own campaign which she called “Find A Bigger Problem,” encouraging people to stop looking at what they were going through and find a way to help someone else who was suffering. Specifically, she invested herself in helping women in Nigeria who needed treatment for HIV/AIDS. Serving others turned on a light for her that carried her through her cancer journey with a grace that was inspiring, and she was intentional about sharing this “secret” with everyone she could, so they could find a way to reach outside themselves, serve others, and feel the same light.

One winter Wednesday a few years ago, Becky McClelland met me at her door when I stopped to pick up her grandson. She smiled and handed me a package – roasted cinnamon sugar nuts that she had made that day. In the middle of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, she had taken time and energy to make something to give. I can only assume that besides the way that touched me, the making and the giving brought Becky some light in a dark time.

Maybe you find yourself in darkness right now, anywhere from cranky to nearly immobilized by something that seems too heavy to bear. Maybe not, but if not, you can be sure the time is coming-it is part of life. Join me in committing to fight against your darkness by reaching out. Make a list of ways you can do that. Maybe even use Isaiah’s words as a template.

Loose chains of injustice-sponsor a child and write them a letter, spend some time learning about a social issue and pick some way you can work for change https://ourmissionispossible.org/

Set the oppressed free, break every yoke-volunteer at a drug rehab program or for an organization fighting human trafficking

Share your food with the hungry, spend yourself on behalf of the hungry-donate food and/or time to a local food pantry or make a meal to take to someone who is sick

Provide shelter for the poor wanderer-help out at a homeless shelter, check out what Habitat for Humanity is doing near you and join in

When you see the naked, clothe them-ask a teacher you know if there is a child that needs a hoodie or a coat, and buy it

Be available to your own family-play a card game, plan a family dinner, write a note of encouragement, put down your phone

Stop pointing your finger and stop malicious talk-this speaks for itself (ouch!)

Meet the needs of the oppressed-visit at a nursing home, mentor a younger person, go on a service trip https://be2live.org/

You make your own list. Don’t be held back by thinking these things are too big; it’s OK to start small. But start. And continue. Watch for the light breaking through your personal darkness and illuminating the darkness of others. Feel the healing and strength and energy.

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Jesus, thanks that You are light. Because of You, I don’t have to live in darkness. Still there are dark moments and days in my life. Please give me the strength to recognize the darkness and use it as a reminder to reach out rather than retreat. Bless and multiply my efforts to serve others, and bring light to others through me. I pray for each person reading this, that they will see You and Your light, that they will know that the You are stronger than any darkness, that they will open up and give, especially when they find themselves in a dark place.

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.” Psalm 89:15

-Leah

Let it sink in…

Tegaye.

Tegaye walked through the gate of the orphanage in Ethiopia with her three children, holding the hand of one, carrying one on her back and one in her arms.  At first glance, it appeared that the two smaller children were very close in age, and I wondered if they were twins.  When she handed one of the babies to me, it was quickly obvious that he was quite ill.  He was so thin, with sunken in eyes and poor muscle tone.  She explained to us that he has had problems since birth.  Because of his disabilities, his father left them and her family shunned them.  They all wanted her to give him up and told her he was a curse, that because of him, she was cursed.  Tegaye cried as she told her story.  She handled Natanim, her disabled son, so gently and held him close to her face, kissing him and saying, ” He is my gift from God.”  After being abandoned by her family to survive on her own, she was raped and became pregnant.  Her youngest child was a little girl, 3 months old, who looked happy and healthy.  Tegayeworked braiding hair, and she had to leave the children at home while she was working.   As she finished speaking, we all stood in silence.  Jadyn asked our interpreter, “Please, can you tell her that we don’t think she is cursed?”  Tegaye cried, and we cried.  We told her that she was doing a beautiful thing, keeping her son and working to support her children.  We were able to give her cloth diapers and wipes and clothes, and most importantly, our love and prayers for help for her family.

Jadyn.

Who is it that had the insight and courage to speak love to a suffering mom like that?  Jadyn was finishing her junior year of high school when she was invited to go to Ethiopia to share love and serve poor families and orphans.  She was no stranger to trauma and difficulty herself.  I didn’t know the details, but I knew enough to see that the issues were painful and that although there was healing in progress, there were also scars.  Jadyn traveled across the world with a group of people she really didn’t know, at a time in her life when she was sorting out who she was and where she belonged.  Early in our trip, I shared a song with her.  

“Head full of questions, how can you measure up?

To deserve affection, to ever be enough

For this existence

When did it get so hard?

Your heart is beating, alive and breathing,

And there’s a reason why

You are essential, not accidental

And you should realize

You are beloved

I wanted you to know

You are beloved

Let it soak into your soul

Oh, forget the lies you heard

Rise above the hurt

And listen to these words

You are beloved.”

Beloved.  The message resonated with her immediately-she needed those words, and she held on to them.  And, in the moment when she met Tegaye, someone who also needed to know she was beloved, she spoke that message, with grace and unmistakable sincerity.

Beloved.  

I still remember the very first time I heard that song, sung live by Jordan Feliz.  It hit me hard, and not only because it is a great song with an amazing message, but because of where I was standing.  As I listened to those words for the first time, I was standing beside a young person who was struggling to keep his head above the waters of depression and anger.  Again, I didn’t know the details, but I knew enough to see that he was feeling alone and sad.  I prayed for him as the song played; I so wanted him to hear and understand how beloved he was!  I never had an opportunity to talk with him about that moment, but I kept praying, and now, several years later, you can see smiles and peace taking over darkness and sorrow.

As I was thinking through this connection from a song to a teenager to a single Ethiopian mom, I remembered vividly a scene from my own life.  My own “beloved” moment.  I was 20.  I was sitting in Venezuela with a group of young people singing worship songs.  I was torn and tired.  I had been on a roller coaster of emotions for several years, seemingly banging my head against a wall as I tried to get unstuck from repetitive poor choices and a destructive relationship.  Not-so-great self-esteem and my deep-seated “need” to please everyone were like quicksand, sucking me back in every time I felt like I was making progress.  At that moment though, I wasn’t thinking about any of those things.  It wasn’t a “special” moment, we had gathered to sing together routinely during the preceding several weeks.  I don’t even know what song we were singing, but all at once, I heard and felt God’s incredible love.  It washed over me.  “He loves me.  He loves me.  Like deep, intense love, and not because I was getting life right or because I was great or even good.  In spite of the mess and the regrets.  It didn’t matter.  God loved me. I had been singing “Jesus loves me this I know” since I was born.  But all at once, I knew.  I cried.  I didn’t care if people noticed (that by itself is a sign of how powerful this was inside me).  There is no question that that night in Venezuela was a turning point, a conversion, if you will.  Somehow it provided me with the strength to move in a healthy direction and to keep moving that way.  There were set backs, but the tide had turned.

Beloved.  Let it sink into your soul.  God’s love is powerful, life changing.  It is real.  He loves you.  It doesn’t depend on you, who you are or what you do, and it is there whether or not you feel it or understand it.  But the feeling it and starting to understand it can change everything.  

This is why Paul prayed, 

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  (Ephesians 3:18-19)

I pray that for you.  

It is only because of God’s love that we can love.  That’s the only way we can love ourselves and love others.

We love because he first loved us.”  (I John 4:19)

Jesus tells us that the proof of our connection to God’s love is our love for others. 

By this everyone will know that are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

It’s like the love of God for us unlocks our ability to truly give love.

More than anything, I want to live a life of love, and I can only do that by knowing that I am beloved and immersing myself in God’s love, and even copying Him.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

You are beloved.  Let it sink into your soul.  Then go out and help someone else know how loved they are.  

-Leah

“Sometimes a heart can feel like a heavy weight

It pulls you under and you just fall away

Is anybody gonna hear you call (Oh, oh)

But there’s a purpose 

Under the surface

And you don’t have to drown

Let me remind you 

That love will find you 

Let it lift you out

You are beloved

I wanted you to know

You are beloved

Let it soak into your soul

Oh, forget the lies you heard

Rise above the hurt

And listen to these words

You are beloved”

Celebrate the Moments

I think I remember when it started. We had been driving all day and had at least three hours to go to reach our destination of Wawa. Now that we were in Canada, the distance was being marked out in kilometers, not the miles to which we were accustomed. We were being cautious to stay within the speed limit, especially since we weren’t in our home country. Kids and parents were tired. I had the idea of celebrating milestones. Every 10 minutes that passed, we would take a moment to celebrate with a few “Woo hoo” ‘s and “Yay” ‘s. The refrain of “Celebrate good times, come on!” rang out.


Jack was on board immediately – he’s a celebrating kind of guy, but there was some eye rolling and skepticism from the older boys. Jack and I stuck with it, and before too long the whole family was watching for the time to celebrate. We celebrated ourselves all the way to Wawa!


Since then, the celebrating of time has changed. Now we celebrate times that are special in a numerical sense, like 12:34 or 5:43 or 4:44. There are lots of opportunities every hour, we just have to catch them. Jack sometimes even stretches the qualifications, like celebrating 8:19 because 8+1=9.


When I was in Haiti in November, I was very excited to learn from a team member named Deb that we should let our faces be like 10:10 and not 7:25. Picture the hands on a clock – 10:10 is a smile and 7:25 is a frown. She even had a little song to sing with this 10:10 advice.

Nick demonstrates 10:10


What I’m getting at with all this is the importance of celebration and rejoicing and gratitude. It’s powerful! We can flip the switch from aggravation to joy just by reminding ourselves to do it. It surely sounds corny, but several times during my workday when I check to see what time it is, it’s one of those times for celebrating, and I can feel the internal smile and give a silent “woo hoo!” That split second of joy can do a lot to change my mental atmosphere. Hopefully there is a contagiousness like we experienced on that long car ride, and surely the celebrating makes the journey through the day more fun.


Some people seem to be natural “celebrators,” like my Jack. Others find complaining is more their default. I hate to admit it, but I am one of the latter. The celebrating thing takes effort and practice, but I never regret it.


A Thousand Gifts, by Anne Voskamp, describes her experience listing one thousand things for which she was thankful, right in the middle of the busy and the mundane and the painful and the frustrating. She says, “Thanks is what multiplies the joy,” and “Only self can kill joy.” Her words resonate with me-“There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.” She says that sincere thankfulness can inspire thankfulness in the people around us. Read the book-it’s great!


When you get right down to it, celebrating is just a way of expressing joy and thankfulness. And it is very Biblical!


Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness.” Psalm‬ ‭89:15-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

And from Paul to the Thessalonian church, advice that still applies today,
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:16-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬


I love this conclusion to the prophet Habakkuk’s writing:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” Habakkuk‬ ‭3:17-19‬ ‭NIV‬‬


Maybe we can’t relate very well to failing olive crops and lack of sheep and cattle, but I challenge you to write your own paraphrase. “Though I can’t get caught up at work and though I am having marriage issues and though I’m struggling to make ends meet and though I feel like a failure… yet will I celebrate and yet will I remember that God is enough and far more than enough.”


He is. Light that spark of celebration and fan it into a flame of worship. It’s time!


God, I am thankful. Help me to seize the opportunities You give me to celebrate. Teach me to find joy no matter what my circumstances, and use that joy to encourage others and to give me strength. Remind me to rejoice in Your name all day long. May I see the moments as gifts from You.


-Leah

P.S. I started writing this post on Wednesday, and I have needed to remind myself of its message and practice trading cranky for thankful multiple times since then. I realize the theme is similar to “It’s Just Swim Trunks,” but it is something I am still learning. I hope it is helpful for you also!

It’s Just Swim Trunks

Do you remember being 13? I know I was 13 once, and despite how long ago that was, I can remember at least some of my early adolescent years. This has come to mind recently because as I mother my own 13-year-old. Sometimes, when I’m shaking my head, wondering what could possibly be going on in his head, I try to recall that stage of my own life. Here’s an example from a few weeks ago.


I can tell you one thing about 13-year-olds today: they are busy. Marco had been away visiting his cousin for several days, and was to leave the next morning for church camp. We got home around 9 pm Saturday night, and began packing for his next adventure. I got up early enough Sunday morning to finish the load of laundry so clothes would be clean for camp.

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As we were putting everything into the suitcase, Marco discovered that his swim trunks were missing. A little looking turned into a full-on search, involving both parents. The trunks should have been with the clothes that he had taken to his cousin’s house, and those clothes had been laundered. It was as if the trunks had vanished. Marco was distraught. Maybe that sounds dramatic to you, but if you had been present that morning, I’m sure you would agree that there were intense emotions at play. Luckily, we had several other pairs of trunks that would work in a pinch, but those weren’t cutting it. After we finally concluded that the desired trunks were not available to make the trip to camp, we tried re-directing Marco, comforting him, reminding him of the fun week ahead. I tried to remain calm and be patient. I held Marco’s face and looked him in the eyes and spoke truth kindly. Really, he was just mad. And he was mad at me! He somehow believed that I had lost his swim trunks. I felt strongly that I had not, but told him that, even if I were to blame, he should forgive me and move on. Actually, I had to move on myself-I was teaching Sunday school that morning and had not factored the missing swim trunks into my morning schedule. I ended up leaving Marco in the capable hands of his father, and went to greet the 4th graders at church. Marco did finally re-group, and sent me an apology text. I was able to see him off to Miracle Camp with a hug and good will between us.


Later on, as I was pondering this morning glitch, I realized that Marco had been feeling disappointment, fear of what others would think about his trunks, frustration over unmet expectations. For a little while, this was all he could see. He couldn’t or wouldn’t see the bigger picture-the privilege and fun of a week away at camp and the fact that he still had options for swimming. It startled me to realize that I often act the same way. Something comes up that I don’t like and didn’t expect. I get interrupted, things don’t go my way, I start worrying about what others are thinking, I start laying blame. My focus is on this negativity, and I miss the context of positivity. I get feeling grouchy instead of grateful.


I came across a Biblical example of a similar scenario this week when I was reading the story of Esther. Haman was second to the king, rich and famous.
Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai; nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king. Haman added, ‘Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.'” (Esther 5:9-13 NRSV)
This guy had everything, but couldn’t even enjoy it because he was irritated by one thing that didn’t go his way.


Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees.


Last summer our family was discussing this saying, and I asked Marco if he saw the forest or the trees. He thought a minute and answered, “All I see is the town.” This is classic, and true! Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, and sometimes we are looking the wrong direction entirely and can’t see either. We need to re-focus and ask God to let us see with His eyes. He sees the big picture.


For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NRSV)


These little blips in our days that put us into a tailspin are as minimal as missing swim trunks. We are still going to camp. We will still be able to swim. The here and now is a tiny speck in the universe of eternity, and even big disappointments and setbacks in this life cannot threaten our forever future.


Paul, a man well-acquainted with aggravations, disappointments, and much worse, said,
“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39 NRSV)


When I first met him, my father-in-law used to tell me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” It is our choice: we can take an attitude of gratitude and confidence and refuse to let go of our joy, or we can growl and complain about things we can’t change.

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God, You know how my mind wants to get trapped in negativity. Please help me to see things from Your perspective. Help me to let go of frustration and be thankful. Keep me looking at You, and help me to inspire joy in those around me. Remind me that nothing can separate me from Your love, and that Your love is all that I need.

-Leah