Thursday, December 24, 2015

It Wouldn't Be Christmas...

 Fill in the blank:  It wouldn't be Christmas without ______________.

What comes to your mind when you read that?  Presents?  Family?  Singing Christmas carols?  Lights?  Holiday baking?  Decorating the tree?  Snow?

I was asked this question as an ice-breaker a few weeks ago at a Ladies Christmas party for church.  I had trouble coming up with an answer at the time.  I just couldn't think of one answer that symbolized and summed up Christmas in my head.

I went for the obvious answer.  It wouldn't be Christmas without Jesus.  We had just listened to a lovely devotional by Diana Otto about wading through all the traffic, all the shopping and other commercialism, and finding ways to honor the Savior during this busy season.  So my answer got a laugh, but was also completely literal.  Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without Jesus; it is His birthday that we celebrate, after all.

I followed up my funny and very obvious answer with this one.  It wouldn't be Christmas without family.  I love the celebrations that we have with our families.  Getting together with the extended family is always a good time.  I feel as much at home with the Tellmans as I do with the Taylors.  But I especially enjoy the time that just the four of us spend together on Christmas morning.    We are blessed to hang out, relaxing and making memories.

Christmas is about Jesus and family, but it still didn't really answer the question for me.  I enjoy those all year long, not just December 25.  Last night, my answer came to me.  So I am taking this opportunity for a "do over."

It wouldn't be Christmas without this...

It wouldn't be Christmas without candlelight service on Christmas Eve.  I suppose a candlelight service would be meaningful anywhere, but it holds a special place in my heart at our home church.  This is the moment where everything stops.  Where time stands still for just a bit.

Like many of you,  I feel like I have filled every possible minute in the last couple of weeks getting ready.  Shopping, wrapping, baking, making teacher gifts, more shopping.  Now I will say that Todd did quite a bit of the shopping this year, and the kids are old enough to help with the baking and the wrapping.  So that helps tremendously, but it was still busy.  Very busy.  Yesterday was no exception.  We spent the morning delivering presents and other goodies around town.  In the afternoon, I was in the kitchen making the food that I am taking to my parents' house today.  

I had a goal to make sure everything was done before church.  After all the preparation to get everything ready, I was ready to just stop.  Just stop and bask in the Light of the World.  From the traditional carols we sing together to the annual children's story to the special songs by various people, the entire service just fills me with joy.

All of these culminate in the lighting of the candles and singing Silent Night.  I love when the auditorium lights go out, and it is just Mr. Ken on stage with one candle lit.  How quickly it goes from one small flame to a whole glowing auditorium.  As the light spreads from one person to the next, I am reminded of the old camp song:

"It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
That's how it is with God's love
Once you've experienced it.
You've got to Pass It On."

We can't keep God's love to ourselves, we have got to pass it on.  With all the hustle and bustle competed, this moment with candles glowing is a symbol to me of what Christmas really is all about.  It is not about me or my kids or how many things I got checked off my lists.  It is about Jesus.  It is about spreading the warmth and love and light that only He can bring.

It wouldn't be Christmas without the Light Of the World.  

Friday, December 18, 2015

Farewell to the Queen

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a very special lady.  This is my attempt at a tribute.  I pray I honor her with my words.

Jacqueline June Josephine Tellman Newmann was born on April 5, 1929 to Frank and Cyrilla Tellman in Kansas City, Missouri.   She was the oldest of eleven children.  She married Roy Newmann on  May 30, 1953, and they were married for more than fifty years before Roy passed away.  They had six children and fourteen grandchildren.  She died in her home in Crestwood, Missouri on December 9, 2015.

From the moment I met her, Aunt Jackie always made me feel welcome and loved.  She never once made me feel like I was anything less than 100% Tellman.  I know she cared for me as much as all of the bloodline nieces and nephews.  I didn't see her often, but she always made me feel special.   She talked to me, asking me questions and really listening to my answers.  She sent me birthday cards, always with a handwritten note about how much she enjoyed "our little family."  I always hugged her when I left a family function...and I didn't know until yesterday that she didn't really like hugs.

I found out yesterday that she had been a teacher.  I can't believe I didn't know that before.  I would have loved to "talk school" with her and hear her stories firsthand.  As it was, several of her former students were at the visitation and funeral.  They all remembered her so fondly.  More than one said she was the best teacher they ever had.  One gentleman spoke about how mischievous he was, and she would always say, "Why did you do that?  I know you are a good boy, but now I have to punish you."  What a powerful way to get someone to think about his actions, show that she cared for him and believed in him, and hold him accountable all at the same time.  I loved hearing about the library that she had in her classroom and how they got to take turns being the librarian.  It was also fun to hear that she was only eighteen when she started teaching in a one-room school house, and that she had 38 students in all grade levels.  (Can you imagine? Wow!)  That is quite a legacy to leave to have students from sixty some years ago attend your funeral.

Aunt Jackie's son-in-law, Gary Vien, shared some remarks of rememberance at the funeral.  He spoke of a conversation he had with her sometime earlier.  I loved this line from Aunt Jackie: "At my age, I have no regrets...I have made mistakes, but I have done my best to resolve them, and I have no regrets....How about you?  Do you have regrets?"

So how about it?  Do you have regrets?  The best way I can think of to keep Aunt Jackie alive is to live our lives without regrets.  Resolve your mistakes to the best of your ability.  Make everyone feel special.  Really listen.  Be friendly.  Write a personal note to your own handwriting.

Aunt Jackie personally embodied so much of what I love about the Tellman family.  She will be missed by so many.  Farewell, dear lady.  We will see you again someday.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Faith Adventures (book review)

*This post is part of a linked-up list of book reviews powered by inlinkz. Learn more and join us,CLICK HERE. *

Recently I was asked to be part of the advance launch team for a new e-book by Jennifer Lane.  She took her posts from what she did on #write31days and turned it into a book.  Her book was released on Amazon on December 1, and you can find it by clicking here:  

  Faith Adventures

As the title implies, this story follows her and her family through many different aspects of their lives over recent years.  I really enjoyed reading her story.  Recognizing God's working in my life is the heart of my own blog so it was fun for me to read how He has worked in another's life.  The same God that created me to be who I am and has a purpose for my life has created Jennifer and has a purpose for her life.  Her role in God's Kingdom looks much different than my role, but I still found myself relating to her triumphs and struggles as I read.

The way she detailed her triumphs and struggles is one of the things I loved about this book.  She is very real.  She has dealt with difficult issues in her life, and she is very authentic about how she handled them, for good or bad.  Although I am sure some of those areas were difficult to write about, I identified with her most when she was talking about how she couldn't handle everything on her own.

One of my favorite sections of the book talked about God leading her to participate in a bicycle-food delivering ministry to kids in inner-city Amarillo.

“God has rarely asked me to do something that I’m good at.  He almost always gives me opportunities to serve Him from a place of weakness.  Taking on the bike ministry and leading a route is the best example of ministry from the point of weakness in my life.”

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” -- 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

I love that line....God has rarely asked me to do something that I'm good at.  When we rely on Him to do something that we cannot do on our own, His power shines through.  What we cannot accomplish by our own sheer grit and determination, God easily steps in and says, "I've got it from here.  Trust me."

As I read this book, I found myself thinking that there is something for everyone in this book.  Here are some of the areas that she discussed:

  • Mission trips to far-off places
  • Missionary work at home
  • Serving those around you
  • Home school 
  • Depression and social anxiety
  • Serving where you don't feel qualified
  • Fundraising
  • Adoption
  • Grieving loved ones
  • Suicide

All through her real-life stories, she speaks on how God has showed up for her in great big ways time and time again.  She seamlessly weaves Scripture into her writing as she reflects on lessons she has learned from "an Unseen God."  She was able to switch from her personal stories to Bible verses and back again without it ever seeming forced.

I found Jennifer's book to be easy to read, and hard to put down.  I invite you to read it too; I think you will enjoy seeing the ways God has worked in her  Faith AdventuresMaybe it will help you see His role in your own adventures!

*NOTE: I was asked to be an advance reader for this book as it was being published. I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

He's Not Finished Yet...

He's not finished with me yet.  After spending a whole month writing and reflecting on Psalm 139, I thought I got it.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and God is bigger than my insecurities.  I have discovered that God is not done speaking to me about this topic; He continues to show me how prevalent and amazing this passage of Scripture is.  I wanted to shared with you some of the ways I continue to see these ideas pop up all around me.

The Balance--Calvary Chapel of Joplin (Spirit FM 11/4/15)

On the way home from dropping the kids off at church, I flipped on the radio.  My radio is permanently set on Spirit FM (when it is not listening to the kids' Christmas program CD!)  Every night at 6:00 PM this show called "The Balance" is broadcast.  Some nights it captures my attention; some nights it doesn't.  Guess what the very first thing I heard was:  the pastor that hosts that show using the first four verses of Psalm 139.  I nearly laughed out loud at the timing of that.  As I listened more, I realized that his topic was on Revelation but he worked in Psalm 139 to show how God is all-powerful and all-knowing.  There it is again!

Steven Furtick-- Sticks and Stones: Grow Your Gift
One day I decided I wanted to listen to something different than Spirit FM.  I remember my friends Jennifer Frisbie and Amy Tuley talking about how much they enjoyed listening to Steven Furtick from Elevation Church.  We had listened to bits and pieces of him on the way home from Dallas.  Okay, they had listened to entire sermons while I only caught bits and pieces as I kept dozing off in the backseat.  Anyway, I caught enough to remember and be intrigued.  I started listening to this Sticks and Stones series.  He spoke about how David was this tenderhearted harpist, skilled enough to play for King Saul.  But also how David was this fierce warrior capable of killing thousands of men.  I had never thought about it before, but these two things do not really go together.  God had taken these two very different aspects of David and molded them perfectly so he would be equipped to do all the tasks God asked him to do.  And then he quotes David's own Psalm--Psalm 139!  Can I just say this?  Mind blown!

Jesus Kids TV

Hannah has discovered this channel on TV called Jesus Kids TV.  I don't know if there is more to it or not, but she really likes the worship songs on there.  She puts it on and sings and dances her heart out.  I love how much that girl likes to praise the LORD!  Last Saturday, I was not paying much attention as I sat there crocheting.  There in the middle of a song, the singer starts reciting several verses from Psalm 139.  The most fun part for me is how she recognized it as the same words that are hanging on the laundry room wall.  

Beth Moore-- The Beloved Disciple

Periodically, I pick up this book to read.  I really enjoy it, but it is so deep that I can only read it in small sections.  I have to soak it in and marinate on it for a while before I am ready for another chunk.  Anyway, I read some recently.  Guess what?  She described John and Peter arriving at the empty tomb, searching for Jesus.  Referencing Psalm 139:12, she talks about how the darkness of the cave suddenly was filled with Light, the Light of the World.  "Even the darkness will not be dark for you; the night will shine like the day."  Later, she talks about how there is a special purpose and plan that He made just for me, and He created me perfectly to fulfill that plan.    I love the way she said it:  "God is busy making you someone no one else has ever been."  As I read further, she discusses how God is bigger than our anxieties and insecurities--that was the whole theme of my post Love > Fear.  Did I mention that this book is about the beloved disciple, John?  It is not about David at all, but there is Psalm 139 (or ideas from Psalm 139) sprinkled throughout the sections I read.

Mark Landis--Sermon on 11/1/15

The sermon two weeks ago fit in perfectly with the theme God has been writing on my heart recently.  Mark was talking about the faith of Moses.  I found it interesting that he used different Scriptures, but the message was the same.  His main points--as I wrote them down-- were that our insecurities prevent us from living out God's plan and purpose in our lives.  We doubt our own identity, we doubt if others will believe us, and we doubt our ability to perform the tasks in front of us.  God will equip us so that we can overcome our insecurities.  We have to understand our true identity, which is only found in Christ. 

I so loved this sermon because I had never thought about Moses in this way before, but I also loved it because it coincided so well with everything I wrote about in October.  Here I had just written a whole month of posts about getting rid of our insecurities and accepting who were fearfully and wonderfully made to be, and then Mark is bringing up that I am perfect for God's plan and purpose in my life.  My identity is not in what I tell myself that I cannot do; my identity is in who God made me to be.  He is bigger than our fears.  He is made perfect in our weaknesses.  His grace is sufficient for us.  I am enough.  God is more than enough.  Whatever He is asking me to do, He can do in me and through me.  Mark told us to stop saying "I can't" and start saying "God can."

The best part of this message for me was when Mark said this:  "You have a God story.  Own up to your past, and share who you have become now."  That perfectly sums up the reason I am a blogger. 

I have a God story to share.  Through my words, my goal is to share who God has made me to be, admit my failures, and talk about how I see Him working in my life.  I don't know what anyone else got out of the sermon, but this message seemed like affirmation for me.  Thank you for reading my God story!

He's Not Finished With Me Yet...

After a whole month of writing about my identity and the beauty of Psalm 139, I was feeling like I got it.  I knew what God was telling me.  But in the last two weeks, He has shown me that this is a message I need to continue to hear and see all around me.  I am enough.  God is more than enough.  He made me perfectly to carry out what He has planned for me to accomplish.  All I have to do is keep stepping out in faith.  God is not finished writing my story, and I need to keep sharing how the chapters are unfolding.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Have You Read It?

This morning I woke up thinking about what I was going to write about I guess that makes this Day 32!

I have been writing about Psalm 139 for the last month.  I have written about my strengths and my weaknesses, my successes and failures, and my insecurities and my identity.  But my question for you is this:  Have you read it?  Have you really read it?  Have you soaked it in until it changes you at a cellular level?  

Why don't you do it now?

Psalm 139

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.
 If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! 
They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. 
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? 
I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. 
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:1-24 NIV

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reflections - Day 2

I made it!  Here is my 31st post in the Day 31 Challenge.  Honestly, I didn't think I would be able to make it every day, especially with Parent-Teacher Conferences last week.  That was followed by a 3-day trip to Branson--didn't know if I could write then either.  But I did.  I have posted something every day this month.  (I sort-of feel like there should be a drum roll or herald of trumpets or something like that...)

All that aside though, I have really enjoyed it.  It has been fun to see where God wanted me to go and to share it with all of you.  God worked pretty hard on my heart through the summer and particularly at the Declare Conference.  My goal in writing about all that was to help someone else who might be struggling with anxiety, insecurity, or their own identity.

Some posts are better than others.  Not everyone is my favorite.  But some of the ones that I didn't think were as good ended up being ones that got the most attention from my audience.  Some days I was discouraged and didn't think my writing mattered.  Every single time I have thought that, someone has stopped me in the hall and said how much they have been enjoying it every day.  Or someone mentions a specific line from one of my posts and tells me how that stuck with them.  Or someone just leaves a comment on my page that says, "Thanks. I liked it."  Those bits of encouragement mean the world to me.

One of the things that is difficult is sharing all my struggles and insecurities.  It is hard to lay it all out there sometimes.  But you know what?  It is also difficult to share my successes sometimes.  I don't ever want to convey that I have all the answers, that I have got it all together, or that I make the right choice every time.  It is a balance between sharing my weaknesses and my strengths.  Some days - or moments - I am pretty in tune with God, and some days I am way off.  I hope that is the picture I have painted throughout this month and any other time that I write something.

Will I do this challenge again next year?  I don't know yet.  At this time, I don't have a strong feeling about it one way or the other.  Maybe I will just wait and see if God drops another topic in my lap.  But I know that I can do it if I feel so led--I have proven that to myself this year.

I want to thank you for reading.  Whether you read every day or whether you just read one, I appreciate it.  I really do.  It means a lot to me that my writing means something to you!  I also want to thank you for the encouragement and support.  I could not have completed this challenge without the kind words and hugs along the way.  That has kept me going.

I especially want to thank my fellow writers, Amy Tuley and Jennifer Frisbie.  These dear ladies are not just friends and amazingly faithful people, but they also have undertaken the 31-Day Challenge.  Knowing I can send them a text with a question or moment of despair or total writer's block has carried me through this month.  Couldn't have done this without the two of you!

I also owe my husband a thousand thank you's.  He has put up with my craziness while writing.  He has endured a bit of grumpiness as I have felt stressed about meeting all my deadlines this month.  He is not much of a reader, but there are two things he reads faithfully:  the Bible and my blog.  He has helped me find typos, sent me encouragement, cheered me on--all while being incredibly stressed and overworked himself.  Love you so much!

This has been a great journey.  Thank you to all of you!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Reflections - Part 1

I have made it to Day 30--glad to see you still hanging around with me!  I really appreciate you taking the time to read my posts each day.

For the last two days, I want to take a moment to reflect on how this writing month has worked for me, and what it has meant to me.  Today I focus on how I got to this point.

From the Beginning

Each morning I have a daily reading from the Bible.  By the end of the calendar year, I have gone through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation...and then I start over on January 1.  I started the year Todd and I got married so that is twelve complete trips through the Bible if anyone is counting.  I say all that to point out that when I read Psalm 139 this year, it wasn't the first time I had ever read it.  I should have been pretty familiar with it.  But I wasn't.  When I read it this year, it was like I had never seen it before.  The Holy Spirit made it come alive in my heart that day.  Just like it says in Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  I was really convicted with two thoughts that day about the Scripture.  The first is the sheer beauty of the words.  They just washed over me...and through a spring shower on a fresh bed of flowers; I just soaked up every word and felt refreshed.  The second was a call to memorize the Psalm.  I remember thinking that something so beautiful should be committed to memory so I could bring it up anytime I needed it.  That is a big chunk of Scripture to memorize, but I could do that.

Summer Struggles

But I didn't.  Not right then anyway.  I thought several times over the summer that I needed to start memorizing those words.  As I have mentioned several times, this summer was a difficult for one.  It is hard to pinpoint exactly what it was, but I can see now that I was dealing with a lot of insecurity about measuring up to other people's standards, or the standards that I have made up inside of my head.  I just had this persistent nagging with my soul that I was doing life wrong, that I just couldn't quite get it together.

Declare Conference

This conference had a huge impact on me.  Although I have written about different aspects of it, I still cannot fully convey how the message there went so deep inside of me.  Every speaker seemed to reference Psalm 139 in some way or another.  Even those that did not directly quote it seemed to be talking about ideas in there:  God's power and sovereignty, embracing our unique identity, and turning over our anxieties to Him.  I was blown away with how this same message kept coming up and up during this two and a half days.  I know it was the Holy Spirit working in me.  I began to see the lies that had been holding me bondage and releasing some of the pent-up anxiety a little at a time.  There were some really difficult moments when I was coming to terms with all of that and dealing with those things I had stored up inside of me.  I began to see my summer struggles differently at that point.  What if I had memorized those twenty-four verses when God first put it on my heart, way back on May 15?  Would I have still felt all that anxiety, worry, and insecurity over the summer?  Or would I, at least, have been better equipped to deal with it?  This is when I started telling myself, "I am enough.  He is more than enough."


In the days that followed the Conference, I began to memorize Psalm 139.  I won't describe that process again in detail, but I just tried to break it into chunks.  I did great for a few days...right up until I went back to school.  And then I have had a much harder time getting it to stick in my head.  (This would have been so much easier if I had worked on it in May, June, and July; kind-of makes a case for being obedient to His call the first time around!)  I will confess that I still do not have all it really solid; I keep getting lost in verses 15-22.  But I haven't quit either.  It is still hanging in the laundry room, and I still practice when I fold clothes every day.


In the days after returning home from Declare, I was busy unpacking.  The few things in my suitcase were put away easily, but the message I received in my heart took a lot longer.  There was so much information that I took away from the conference, and so many ways that God had touched my heart.  That conference was "packed" full of the Spirit, and it takes a while to process through all of that.  It seemed clear that I needed to write about this entire Psalm 139 experience...and that it would take more than a day or two to tell this story.  On the way home from Dallas, Jennifer Frisbie, Amy Tuley, and I discussed the October 31-Day Challenge.  It wasn't actually a part of Declare at all; just an idea that all three of us were kicking around.  With their encouragement and support, I decided I would jump in and do it.

Outline and Revising the Outline

I have never been much of a brainstorming/outlining kind of writer.  In fact, don't tell my students this, but I always used to write my paper first and then my outline after that.  But I figured for a project this large, I needed to see how it was going to lay out.  I knew I wanted to focus on Psalm 139, but I didn't know if that was enough material to cover 31 Days.  I originally thought I would do one verse a day, and then only have a few extra days to fill.  When I really got to studying it though, it seemed like certain verses went together and certain ones needed to be stretched out.  I got the whole thing pretty well nailed down, but it was never final.  Even as late as this week, there were still changes being made to what I thought I was going to write.  Maybe I should have written the outline afterwards this time too!

Prayer and Changing Direction

I have prayed a lot over this series.  Although I have written it to showcase how God has been working in my life, I have wanted it be meaningful to my audience as well.  I have prayed over if I should do this challenge, what direction to go, and for the words of each post.  The other night I tried to start writing and I had absolutely nothing coming.  After staring at the screen for a good fifteen minutes or so, I was about to give up.  I was so tired, and there was nothing coming to my brain.  I set my timer for five minutes (longer than that and I would been very much asleep) and prayed for God to calm the chaos in my brain to give me whatever words He wanted me to say.  Honestly I cannot even remember which post that was right this minute, but He provided.  Another day, I had a direction I wanted to go, and I felt like God said, "No, not that."  I tried to be open to changing direction when my original plan didn't feel right.

Writing, Publishing, and Sharing

I had no idea the time commitment when I agreed to do this.  I like to think I am pretty good at writing the blog posts.  But I am easily frustrated at all the other stuff:  the design of the blog and getting it to do what I want it to do, the buttons and the landing page, the pinning it to a board somewhere, the graphics, the sharing it on Facebook...That is a lot of "extras" when I thought it was only writing.  (Luckily, I do have a super smart husband who helps me with some of the technical aspects when needed.)

Sacrificing Isaac

When I finish a post, it is a bit like giving birth.  It can be painful in the process, but there is a lot of joy when the finished product come out.  I made that.  I did it.  That's my baby, and I am so proud of it.  It is really, really easy to get sucked into checking to see if anyone commented on it or who liked it today (or who didn't).  I can find myself checking and refreshing my newsfeed fifty times a day if I am not careful.  I try not to pay much attention to my stats on Blogger, which is really hard because I find it interesting and they have placed it right on my homepage when I sign in.  But I have to lay all that down.  For one thing, it can make me obsessive, and it is a huge time-sucker.  Another thing is that it takes the focus away from God and puts it on me.  That's not right; it is not supposed to be about my glory.  This may seem a little extreme to make this comparison, but I have to leave my  "writing baby," my Isaac,  at the altar every day.  This thing I have made--this post--these words I have crafted together, I have to lay it down.  I try to ask God to bring the people to my post who need to read it, even if it is only one person, even if I never know who it is.  This really is the hardest part for me to turn that over to Him every day.  It's like I'm saying, "Here, God.  I made this for you.  Whatever you want to with it is fine because it is yours now."  But when I really do give it up to Him, those are the days that I have the greatest sense of peace about the writing and sharing process.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Love > Fear

After God kept showing me Psalm 139 over and over all summer and after sitting through the first two days of the Declare Conference, I ended up spending over an hour reading Psalm 139 in a number of different versions.  The next morning I did something that was completely out of my comfort zone.  I got up early and went to an exercise class called "Revelation Wellness."  It was by far the best workout I have done.  It addressed all the areas of my body:  physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I love when the instructor told us to do something with our arms that felt a little strange, and she called out, "It's okay.  King David was even more undignified than this when he danced before the LORD."  It just really spoke to me how the physical movements were tied to Scripture and getting all the anxiety out of our bodies.  Just what I needed!

When the Declare sessions started a bit later, I bought some DVDs to be able to do this kind of workout at home.  On an impulse, I decided to buy the T-shirt too.  "Fear NOT."  That is just the message I needed.  Not only is that a good reminder for me on a day-to-day basis, but it also captures all that I had been learning at Declare.  When I look at that, I think about how many times God tells us not to be afraid in the Bible.  "Do not be afraid; I am with you."  I think He knew how easily we would forget so He put it in there frequently to remind us. 

When I got back to the table and pulled on my shirt, I discovered two little black bracelets wrapped up in my stuff.  Now I am sure this was some sort of bonus gift for my purchase or something like that, but I was the only one around me that had them.  I thought the shirt was pretty cool, but the message of the bracelet resonated beautiful deep within me.  Love > Fear.  So simple, yet so very powerful.  Love is greater than fear.  The more I thought about that, the more I realized that summed up everything God had been teaching me.  God is Love.  He doesn't just have love or give love or show love.  HE IS LOVE.  He is the very definition--the very essence--of everything love.  He is Perfect Love.  1 John 4:18 tells us, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."  There it is right there.  Love drives out fear; love is greater than fear. 

So everything I had fretted over during the summer, every time I feel like I am not good enough, every anxious thought--  those all boil down to fear.  Fear of failure, fear of not measuring up, fear of the all stems from fear.  I am beginning to see how fear is also equal to a lack of trust in God.  If I trust Him fully, then I do not have to worry about all the rest.  He's got this under control.  He did not give us a spirit of fear or timidity, but He gave us power and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7)  Fear does not come from God.  Love does.  Love is greater than fear.  I have worn this bracelet every day since I got it.  When I feel things spinning out of my control, I glance down and see Love > Fear.  God is bigger than anything I am facing, and I do not need to be afraid.  It goes back to my self-message I have shared several times this month:  I am enough.  He is more than enough.

Sometime after returning from Declare, I started seeing an advertisement pop up in my Facebook newsfeed.  I truly laughed out loud the first time I saw it.  I am pretty sure I started seeing it after I had decided to do the 31 Day Challenge, but before I had actually posted anything.  Here is this company that I had never heard of, advertising a shirt in my newsfeed that coincides perfectly with the theme of my series.  Plain as day, there was Psalm 139:14 being promoted.  What can I say?  I decided I needed another shirt!  Why?  Because I am fearfully and wonderfully made!

Of course, companies don't make products just for me, but these two shirts and the bracelet could not have been any more tailored to my mindset.  All three of them remind me of the lessons God has been teaching me and my journey through Psalm 139 as well as the process of daily writing.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Giving It Up

This is one of the posts that was not on my 31-day outline.  I had a topic in mind and was looking forward to writing about it.  When I began praying about how best to convey it this morning, I felt like God told me not to write about that particular topic.  It was nothing bad, by any means, but I felt like He was telling me that topic was only beneficial to me.  So I asked for another idea, and this is what I got instead.

When I decided to do this month-long challenge, I had not really considered what I would be giving up in order to make it happen.  As I am sure you can guess, writing a post every day involves a fair amount of time.  I have never timed myself, but I am guessing it takes me 45 minutes to an hour to write a post I feel I can publish.  My schedule was already pretty full before taking this on.  As my friend Larissa says sometimes, "You can't just keep adding more.  You have to weed the garden."  So there have been things that have had to go away this month, or at least take a lesser role in my day-to-day life.

1.  Fluffy stuff

When I say "fluffy stuff," I am talking about some of those nonessential activities that take up a lot of space in our lives.  I haven't had much time to check personal email or look at crochet patterns or scroll through Facebook.  I have played considerably less Candy Crush than I was playing.  I haven't eliminated any of that entirely, but all of that has been pushed to a less time-consuming spot for a while.

2.  Sleep

 Some people commented on my posts that said they were published at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning.  I was most definitely not up at that time writing for my blog.  Any one that had that time on it was pre-written and scheduled to come out at a certain time.  I know a lot of people only look at Facebook or other things like that first thing in the morning so I was attempting to give them a little "food for thought" with their breakfast or coffee.
You may have noticed that the last several posts came out much later in the day, around the 10 or 11 pm mark.  These have been the ones that are causing me to give up some sleep.  Several times in the last week I have just about talked myself out of writing because I was too tired, and then decided I was too close to the end of the challenge to give up now. 

3.  Perfectionism

I have had to approach this task with the mindset of "Done is better than perfect."  I know that there have been some typos in my work this month.  I do not like publishing something with mistakes in it; that goes against my very nature.  The sheer volume of writing as well as the late nights have caused me to miss some along the way.   And that darn auto-correct!  Also when I share a post, Facebook likes to randomly grab a picture from another day's post.  That has been so frustrating to me, and I have no idea how to fix it.  I don't know how many times it posted the bumblebee picture, which was only related to one post early in the month.  There was one day when I posted several family pictures.  From my end as a writer/publisher, it all looked good.  But when I pulled it up on my iPad or Todd pulled it up on his phone, one of the pictures did not show up.  How do you correct something that is right on some screens and not on others?

4.  Pride

It is tough to reveal your inner bumps, weaknesses and pitfalls to an unseen audience.  I want to be real, but it can be difficult to show all the parts that make you vulnerable.  I find myself, wondering:   "Am I making sense, or am I rambling?  Are you relating to what I am saying?  Are you cheering me on or judging me for something I revealed?"

5.  Any hope of reading anyone else's blog

Did you know there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of people doing this 31-Day Challenge?  Take that times 31 days, and that is a lot of material out there.  I am just barely getting my own writing posted each day.  I would love to read some of what other people are writing--I know it is good, but I just can't do anything else right now.  That includes my two dear friends who are also doing the 31-Day Challenge--not even getting theirs read.  Maybe I can read what someone else has written in November...

6.  Figuring out which posts were meaningful

I have had to give up on this area completely.  I am completely baffled by which posts people are going to love and which do not generate much response at all.  Some of my favorites haven't received much attention.  Some seem to get buried in a sea of other Facebook updates, and some show me that 60-80 people have looked at it.  I try not to get caught up in all the stats and comments and likes, but still I cannot reasonably predict what kind of response a post will have.
7.  Exercise

All right, I admit it.  I wasn't exercising before October either.  But the few times I have thought that it would be a good idea, I didn't know where I could fit that in this month.  That is something else I would like to work back into my schedule in November.  I used to exercise faithfully every morning, and then one day I just stopped and haven't been able to make myself start again.

8.  Laundry

I haven't really given up laundry so much as I have given up getting it put away in a timely fashion.  That has never been my strength, but it has slid a little more this month than normal.  There are clean clothes available; it just requires some digging through a basket instead of going to a dresser drawer.  And I may or may not have washed a load a second time just because I didn't have the energy to fold the clothes in the dryer that night.

9.  Seeing my husband 

Take all my regular responsibilities plus the extra time required for parent-teacher conferences, and add in a few crochet projects, and a daily blogging challenge.   Now couple that with some crazy, ridiculous work hours that my husband has been putting in.  I feel like we have been on opposite schedules and done a lot of tag-team parenting.  Our relationship is strong, and we can weather a busy season.  But I am looking forward to life getting a little less crazy so I can just hang out with my best friend.

I will be writing more about my whole experience over the next couple of days, but I just found myself thinking this morning about what it has taken in order to make the daily blog post happen.  I have had to shift some things around and re-evaluate my priorities.  If you are finding that you are in an extra busy season as well, it may be time to think about "weeding your garden."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Psalm 139:24b - The 31 Day Challenge

"...and lead me in the way everlasting."
Psalm 139:24b

We have made it to the end of the Psalm and almost the end of the month.  I am trying to tie all the pieces together.  Lead me in the way everlasting.  It sounds pretty simple.  God will lead; we follow.  And that road will lead to everlasting life.

But there are so many obstacles that get in our way.  Some we put there ourselves, and some are put there by unseen forces.  Throughout this Psalm, God seems to be saying, "It's okay.  I've got this one."  When we don't know and accept who we are, that is an obstacle in our path.  We get in our own way, full of self-doubt, comparison, and insecurity.  Whether it is something we tell ourselves or something the Enemy plants within us, that crippling sense of anxiety keeps us from fully accepting that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and what God's purpose through us may be.

Another obstacle may be a sense of shame or guilt.  We may try to hide in the darkness, hoping we can run away from the Light, but He has searched us and He knows us.   We may try to outrun him, but He is on the far side of the sea and rises on the wings of the dawn.  We may feel alone or unsafe, but He is there -- hemming us in behind and before with His hand to guide us and hold us fast.

Sometimes we cannot even see the obstacles that keep us from the way everlasting.  That is when we have to stop and search ourselves and ask God to find the ways that are offensive in us.  We have to turn over every anxious thought and submit it to His will.

Whatever it is that stands in our way between God and us needs to be overcome.  God says, "I've got this one.  It's okay."  He already has all the details worked out.  He has a plan to get past the obstacle. All we have to do is trust Him, and follow Him one step at a time.  There will be bumps and hills and valleys and shadows of darkness along the way, but He has the path all lined out ahead of time.  Keep our eyes firmly fixed on the Author and Perfector of faith, and He will lead us in the way everlasting.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Weaver - The 31 Day Challenge

My thoughts today were on God's perfect plan and how He fits all the pieces together.  I can't always see how it goes together, and sometimes I am focused on a tiny detail in the vastness of life.

It reminded me of this poem by Corrie Ten Boom.  She conveys this idea much more eloquently than I do so I thought I would share it here.

“Life is but a Weaving” (the Tapestry Poem)

“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”

Corrie ten Boom
I especially love the part that says, "And I in foolish pride forget He sees the upper and I the underside."  When I am looking at the wrongside of a quilt or a tapestry or an afghan, I can see some of the beauty of it, but I can't really see it for what it is.  That is how it is with my life.  I can see some of the beauty and how it fits together, but I cannot see it all.  What I see as knots or mistakes or bumps are all part of God weaving a beautiful picture of my life.
Times when I don't feel like I am making any difference to those around me, God is busy at work weaving my life tapestry into the threads of someone else's life.  Or maybe He is using that time for someone else to be woven into mine.  The imagery of the woven tapestry with all the brilliant colors so carefully chosen has always spoken to me.  We may never know the impact we have on someone else, but that does not make it less important.

God is a master craftsman, and He "gives the very best to those who leave the choice to Him."

Sunday, October 25, 2015

One in a Schmoozle

Today's post is a reflection on some notes that I took at the Declare Conference when Kat Lee spoke.  Hopefully, I got the numbers and concepts down correctly.  But if not, the big ideas will still be the same--even if I am off by a zero or two.

Her topic was about five tools we need to overcome being overwhelmed.  There were so many good ideas in her presentation, but the part that stuck with me the most-the part I keep coming back to in my head--was her introduction.

She began with the question, "What's famous about you?"  She referenced this couple that attend the same church as her, who just happen to be very good at one thing.  Someone spotted how good they are at their "one thing," and now they are reality TV mega-stars.  Turns out, she was talking about Chip and Joanna Gaines from the show "Fixer Upper."  Kat Lee said now she looks at everyone and thinks, "What's famous about you? What's your one thing?"

She spent time talking about the Strengths Finder test.  I had never heard of the Strengths Finder test at that time.  In case you haven't heard of it either, this is an assessment that will profile your unique strengths, talents, and personality.  It looks at 34 different areas of strength.

According to Kat Lee and her research, the odds of anyone with the same top 5 strengths as you is 1 in 330,000.  The odds of any one person having the same top 5 strengths in the same order as you is 1 in 3.34 million.  The odds of an individual having the exact order of all 34 strengths is 1 with 36 zeroes after it.  She said that was more zeroes than all the people who have ever lived on Earth combined.  So if you start at Adam and Eve and count all the people up through this very minute, it would be less then 1 with 36 zeroes after it.  (Feel free to do your own research if you want.  Believe me, at this point on Sunday evening, I am taking her word for it.)

She said something so special deserves a name.  So she decided to call it a "schmoozle."  (It is a pretty fun word to say.  Go ahead.  Say it.)  The odds of anyone having the exact order of all 34 strengths as I do is 1 in a schmoozle.  This pretty well blew my mind.  One in a schmoozle.  It makes me feel pretty special just to say it aloud:  I am one in a schmoozle!

I don't believe she referenced Psalm 139 in her talk.  If she did, I missed writing it down.  But to me, being One in a Schmoozle, has Psalm 139 all over it.  Nothing speaks more to me about my identity and His sovereignty than being One in a Schmoozle.

This is when God really started working on my heart.  I am enough.  He made me that way.  He perfectly and uniquely created me to be who I am.  He is more than enough.  What I cannot do on my own, He can.  What I cannot do on my own, I can do through Him who strengthens me.  I don't have to worry about what everyone else is doing, or if they are doing it better or differently than I am.  I can cast all that anxiety and insecurity aside.  I am enough.  He is more than enough.

 There has never been anyone anywhere in all of time who is just like me.    I have a story to tell because no one can tell my story like I can.  Nobody can do it just like me.  I am One in a Schmoozle!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Psalm 139:24a - The 31 Day Challenge

"See if there is any offensive way in me;"
Psalm 139:24a

This is a hard one, at least for me.  We want to be holy and perfect and pleasing to God.  We want to have it all together, but we don't.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 8:28).  So here we are, all sinners.  Sin separates us from God, and "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:23). Only by grace and mercy can we be forgiven and draw close to God.

We know we are sinners, and God already knows we are sinners.  But do we have to talk about it?  If God already sees all our flaws, what good does it do to discuss them?

I think it is about the condition of our hearts.  Even though we are saved by grace and mercy and Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, we can still be separated from God.  When we have an unacknowledged transgression in our lives or one we have hidden away from the world and ourselves, we are interfering with our ability to connect with God.  Does He still love us?  More than we can ever fathom.  But when we do things (intentionally or unintentionally) that go against Him, it is us who are pulling away.  He is still standing there with open arms, waiting for us.

When we admit our failures though, it releases something inside of us.  That confession can give us a sense of freedom that wasn't there before.  Giving it over to God puts our feet back on the path that leads to Him.

So it is one thing to confess the sins that we are aware of to God.  It is another thing entirely to ask God to show you the ways that are offensive.  That takes a whole new level of bravery and vulnerability.  When King David wrote this psalm, he really wanted to know what God saw in him.  I think that may be one reason he was called "A Man After God's Own Heart."  He examined himself and invited God to examine him as well.

Today I am inviting you to follow David's lead.  Have a conversation with just you and God and confess an area of your life where you have pulled away from Him.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

Psalm 139:23 - The 31 Day Challenge

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Psalm 139:23

So there I was.  Rushing around my classroom, trying to get a thousand things done all at the same time.  As you might guess, I was not successfully getting any of them done.  I had this feeling building up inside of me that could best be described as super frantic.  Sheer and total panic was about to engulf me.  (What can I say?  It was conference week--any teacher reading this will understand.)

That is when I realized that I had not taken any time at all to talk to my Savior, my Friend.  My early morning routine had been off, squeezing a few moments in to do school work instead of opening my Bible.  How much difference can fifteen or twenty minutes make anyway?  Right?

Fifteen or twenty minutes maybe helped me get one or two things crossed off my lengthy list.  But it also made me all out of whack.  I neglected what was most important, and it affected my whole outlook, my whole day.

So I stopped what I was doing.  Everything I was doing.  And I crouched down behind a bookcase and made time to talk to God.  I probably would have felt a little awkward if someone had walked in, but no one did.  I took a few minutes to say good morning to God, to ask for forgiveness for neglecting Him, and to calm my spirit.  

God knew already.  He knew how my heart was feeling, and how anxious my thoughts were.  I stayed there long enough to feel the anxiety begin to dissipate.  I took a deep breath, and then five or six more for good measure.  It's amazing how just breathing deeply can affect the whole body.  

I stood up and began to work again.  But everything was different.  There were no fewer tasks on my lists, but I felt different.  God had searched me, and He knows my heart.   He helped me lay down the stress I was feeling, the stress I had created myself, and carry on throughout my day.

I wonder how many times my stress and anxiety stems from neglecting my Savior, from not spending time with the One who made me.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Psalm 139:19-22 - The 31 Day Challenge

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! 
 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
Psalm 139:19-22 

I have read these verses over and over.  I do not understand them.  Because I do not understand them, I don't like them.

Did I just say that?  Did I really just say that I don't like part of' Gods Holy Word?  Yep, I did.  And I think it may be okay.

Bear with me here.  Hopefully, you are not too offended to keep reading my trail of thoughts.

So when I look at these four verses, I have more questions than answers.  How can the same God who is love be talking about hate?  What is that word hate doing in there anyway?  I thought we were supposed to be bearers of love and light, not hate and all that goes with it.  These verses clearly talk about hating those enemies who God hates.  When I think of enemies of God, I think people who are against God.  Or are they talking about spiritual forces that are invisible to the human eye but are nevertheless all around us?  Believe me, that whole dialogue makes me have even more questions.  What is this section even doing in this Psalm anyway?  The whole chapter is about God's immeasurable power and sovereignty as He created us to be fearfully and wonderfully made and unlike any other anywhere.  In my mind, it doesn't seem to fit here.

So I have pondered these verses a lot, and I just don't get it.  (For the record, I know I could look up commentaries on these and get more information, and I may.  Someday.  For today though, I am relying on my own reflections.)   I cannot reconcile how the hate parts fit with the message of love that permeates the whole Bible.  

I have decided to focus on what I do know instead.  Here is what I have come up with.

1.  I don't understand this section.  As I try to make sense of the world around me and my place within it, I see things all around me that I don't understand.  My natural tendency is to automatically dislike anything that I can't figure out.  That is not a reflection of God or His Word, but of me and my ability to perceive and connect.

2.  The Bible is vast.  There are 66 books penned by more than a dozen individuals.  There are 1189 chapters and over 31,000 verses within those chapters.  The time period spans hundreds, even thousands of years and multiple locations.  The original texts were written in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.  I am not a Biblical scholar nor have any experience with any of those languages.  Even with the most conscientious translations into English, there are still nuances of meaning that get lost.  With this enormity of text, it is okay that I do not understand every single bit.  That is just more reason to keep studying and asking questions.

3.  2 Timothy 3:17 tells us that All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, righteousness, rebuking, correcting, and training up. So it comes down to this for me.  Do I believe it or not?  If the Bible says All Scripture, doesn't it mean All? I once heard a Beth Moore talk, where she gave a humorous and detailed explanation of her quest to find the etymological root of the word all.  Her conclusion:  all means all, in every language she searched.  So if all Scripture is God-breathed and useful, that would include these four verses in Psalm 139.  I may not be able to piece it together, but they are in there by design.  His design.  The same God who crafted me together perfectly also crafted together this seamless book of His.  

4.  I will continue to study and reflect on His Word.  I have the rest of my life to hone and deepen my understanding and make new connections.  I don't have to have all the answers.  But I know the One who does.

5.  I accept and revere the entire Bible, not just the bits and pieces that I understand and like.

I am still struggling with comprehending this section, but I am confident that it is okay to ask questions and to continue to wrestle with the ideas.

Question for you:  Are there sections or verses with which you struggle?  How do you reconcile your understanding with the Bible as a whole?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Psalm 139:18b - The 31 Day Challenge

"When I awake, I am still with you."
Psalm 139:18b

I didn't sleep well last night.  Sometimes that happens because of stress and worry.  Sometimes because of illness or other ailments.  Sometimes a midnight thunderstorm wakes me up.  Last night it was all three.  Lucky me.
I had a specific student on my mind and my heart last night.  Not really sure why.  I cannot think of anything in particular about this student that is causing me to be overly worried or stressed.  Sometimes I just can't stop thinking about someone--whether it be a student or someone else--and I don't know why.   

Usually when I hear thunder in the middle of the night, it is quickly accompanied by little feet coming into my room, afraid of the terrible noise.  Sometimes she hears the thunder and is in my room before I am even aware that it is storming.  Last night, she didn't come in.  She must have been extra tired, but I was awakened by the rumbling.  I think it kept me awake longer than normal with the anticipation of her needing me but not actually coming into the bedroom.

I could not get comfortable last night.  It seemed extremely hot in my room, and no matter how I positioned myself, some part was hurting.  I noticed that my ear seemed full of fluid but I didn't think much of it at the time.  When I woke up this morning, my ear was screaming with pain and I had a fever.  It makes so much more sense now why I felt hot and achy!

So the combination of all of those things made for a restless night.   The student stress will die down after parent conferences this week.  No complaints about the thunderstorm because we certainly need the rain.  And there are certainly worse things that could be wrong with me than an ear infection and a low-grade fever.  But still there was not much sleep to be had.

This morning when I opened my Bible and my 31-Day outline, I was greeted with a verse about being awake.  Oh, the irony!  

In hindsight, all that time I spent tossing and turning could have been spent talking to my God and my Savior.  I could have been praying for the student that kept waking me up.  I could have been praising Him for the rain or the fact that my little one slept through the scary thunder that time.  I could have been praying for myself to get better rest or to feel better or even praying for people who are facing far worse circumstances than I am.

But I didn't do any of those things.  I just had myself a little pity party and felt a bit desperate for the rest that was eluding me.  Prayer should be my automatic response in all circumstances, even the ones that keep me awake at night.  But it never even crossed my mind last night.   

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in myself that I forget He is right here with me, every step of the way--asleep or awake.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Psalm 139:17-18a - The 31 Day Challenge

"How precious to me are your thoughts, God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of the sand--"
Psalm 139: 17-18a

Last night I went to bed thinking about these words.  I fell asleep praying that God would show me what He wanted me to say about these words.  I woke up several times last night and again this morning, singing "Holy Spirit" by Francesca Battistelli.  I've decided just to let the words of this song speak today.

"Holy Spirit"

There's nothing worth more
That could ever come close
No thing can compare
You're our living hope
Your presence, Lord
I've tasted and seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord
Your presence, Lord

There's nothing worth more
That could ever come close
No thing can compare
You're our living hope
Your presence, Lord
I've tasted and seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord



Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness

I just love this song.  It fills me with unspeakable joy when I hear it.  The verses this morning speak about God's thoughts being so precious.  For me, the connection to the song lyrics is this:  the more I let in the Holy Spirit and allow it to be welcome in my life; the more I am going to be in line with God's thoughts.  He speaks to us through His Word and through His Spirit.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Psalm 139:16b -The 31 Day Challenge

"All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."
Psalm 139:16b

Recently the community where I work faced a tragedy when a well-respected and beloved young man died in a car wreck.  When something like this happens, it affects everyone in the community.  It brings people together in a way that nothing else does.  But still, it leaves a lot of people wondering why something like this could happen to someone so young.

Of course, I don't have any answers or explanations for that.  I don't know why bad things happen to good people.  I don't know why some families experience a number of tragedies and others don't.  I don't know why some families lose several loved ones in a very short period of time.  I don't know why some people go to the doctor for a headache and then end up hospitalized with a major mass in the brain.  It can be frustrating to get tangled up in the lack of answers and the seemingly unfairness of it all.  

When I think about all these things, there are three basic ideas I want to remember.

1). Love my people.  

Life is precious.  Tragedy or illness could be right around the corner for someone I know.  Whether it be a blood relative or someone I see at work, I want to strive to treat them well.  It seems almost trite to even try to type that out, but I don't think it can be said enough.  Don't take anyone for granted.  Say thank you.  Say I love you.  Give a hug or a high five.  Tell somebody they are doing a good job.  Ask for help when I need it.

2).  Lean into God.

God is the author and creator of life.  When my life is uncertain or unfashionable, that is when I need to lean even more on my Everlasting Father.  Ask the hard questions--He can handle it.  In the midst of the worst possible circumstances, Job cried out to God and asked, "Why me?"  I think that story teaches about grief and loss and how to deal with it.

Jesus told his followers that we will have trouble in this world.  We were never promised an easy life.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  He tells us to take up our cross daily and follow Him.  Sometimes that cross is grief and unexplainable loss.  But He also told us that He is the Prince of Peace.  Even when nothing makes sense or we are struck with a thousand questions, there is a peace to be found in His arms that is unlike any other.  Don't pull away from God; lean into Him.

3). Make it count.

I don't know how many days I get on this earth.  Maybe I will live as long as my Great-Grandma Ellis or my Great-Aunt Fern did.  Maybe tomorrow is my last day.  I don't like to think about that.  But what if it is?  How do I want people to remember me?  Was I mean-spirited and gossipy?  Did I put my own wants and desires before other people's needs?  Or was I gracious, loving, and kind?  Do my words and actions point people to God, or drive them away?

I cannot see the big picture of how all the pieces of our lives fit together or how much time we get.  But when faced with circumstances that leave me shaken to the core, I want to remember to take care of my people, to trust in God, and to think about how actions affect those around me.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for today.  I pray that I  use it wisely, and see it for the gift that it is.  Thank you for the people you have put in my life.  Thank you for your grace and mercy that gets us through difficult days.  Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Psalm 139:15-16a - The 31 Day Challenge

"My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, woven together in the depths of the earth; your eyes saw my unformed body;"
Psalm 139:15-16a

I remember that day about nine years ago when my husband and I went to the doctor.  We already knew that we were expecting a baby, but that day would be our first ultrasound.  We knew what an ultrasound was, and we had certainly seen pictures of other people's ultrasounds.  But we did not realize the impact it was about to have on us.
I had read all the "expecting" books.  I have taken a handful of child development classes in college and later in my career.  I knew which parts were developing at that stage and the approximate size at 12 weeks of development.  True to my nature, I had done some research, and I knew what was coming up on that screen.  Right?

When the image came up on the screen, we were completely blown away.  "That is a baby!" we repeated over and over in complete and utter awe and amazement.  To see a real, living baby moving around inside of me struck me to my very core.  Of course, this moment is all about a mother and father getting their first glimpse at the baby to come and the swell of love that accompanies it.

But it was so much more than that too.  This was not an embryo.  This was not a fetus.  It was a baby.  A perfectly formed person.  A teeny-tiny person, but--without a doubt--a person.  There were fingers and toes and a precious little face.  We listened to the heartbeat.  We saw the baby move around.  I even saw what looked like a wave at one point.  "Hi, Mommy.  I'll see you soon!"  This was a perfectly formed, living person.  It was a baby.

That awe and amazement stuck with me in the coming weeks, and even now I don't feel like I can adequately describe it.   God's design in creation was never more clear to me than in that moment.  This was no accidental combining of cells; God made that baby on purpose and for a purpose.

This was a defining moment for me.  Not just as an expectant mother, but as a Christian.  As a person.  I used to think that there were circumstances beyond a person's control where a pro-choice stance could be justified.  My position on that changed when I saw that ultrasound.  God doesn't make mistakes, and He wouldn't allow a baby to be created where He didn't have a plan and a purpose for that unborn child.  Even when we can't see His hand at work, God has "woven us together in the secret place."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully...a Reading Teacher

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Your works are wonderful; I know that full well."
Psalm 139:14

I have always loved words and all things related to language in general.    I learned to read before I went to kindergarten.  As the story goes,  I had a favorite book that I wanted to hear over and over.  (I am still quite fond of The Best Nest, and I bet my mom can still recite parts of it.). One day when I was four, I brought my mom the book and said I would read it to her this time.  My mom listened and thought I surely had memorized all the words.  She thought it was cute.  Later that same day, I brought a different book--an unfamiliar one--and read it all to her.  And that was the beginning...

I vividly remember one day in first grade.  I looked up at my beloved teacher, Mrs. White.  I thought, "Teaching people to read must be a lot of fun.  I think I'll do that when I grow up."  For many, many years, I thought I was going to be a first grade teacher.  That was before I knew about the specific position that I have now.

I have tried some other career avenues in the past.  Some were more successful than others, but none of them fit just right.  When I walk into work each morning, I am thankful to be in a place where I get to do what I love.  And I really do love it.  It brings me a great deal of joy and personal satisfaction to see students be successful where they haven't believed it to be possible.

I have a lot of long days.  I have a lot of stressful days. Every day is a busy day--I teach 10 classes every day (more if I tutor).  The pace I keep every day can best be described as hectic.  I have learned to be very, very efficient with my planning time, but  I still often feel like I am running a marathon at a sprint pace.

Despite all of that, I believe God has given me a set of skills and a passion for this job.  I think I am pretty good at it too.  Not every day is a great day, but I feel like my career matches up with who God designed me to be.  My profession matches my God-given purpose, and that is deeply rewarding

Who am I?  I am fearfully and wonderfully...a reading teacher!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully...a Writer

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Your works are wonderful; I know this full well."
Psalm 139:14

I am a writer, and I always have been.  Strange as it may sound, I just recently recognized this aspect of my identity.  I mean three weeks ago.

Searching for something in the storage room, I stumbled across a basket of binders and journals.  Inside those were pretty much every polished piece of writing I have ever done.  From the most ridiculous and nonsensical stories I wrote as a young child to papers I wrote for my Master's Degree, it was all in there.  That is when it dawned on me.  I am a writer!

I smiled as I realized what I just internalized.  Here I am, getting ready to embark on a 31-Day Writing Challenge for a blog that I have been doing for more than a year, and it just now occurred to me that I am a writer.  I just now picked that up as a piece of my identity.

Whether it be a project or assignment for school or a journal I kept of private thoughts, I have always found it therapeutic and a bit cathartic to fill a page with hand-written thoughts.  I am at this moment typing my thoughts, but my preference has always been to write with a pen first.  It just feels better that way, and the thoughts flow more easily for me.  (Plus, I have an obsession with brightly colored pens.)

I don't always make time to write.  It is easily pushed aside.  But I always enjoy the feeling of having something written.  (I think Virginia Woolf was the first to express that thought.)

Anyway, that moment when I was thumbing though my ancient writings was an eye-opener for me.  God has been preparing me all along to be a blogger and share my stories about how He works in my life.  He gave me a love for words.  He put several good teachers in my path that helped shape my writing.  I took a writing class abut ten or twelve years ago that helped me find my voice.  He prodded me to start using all these things to share in a blog.  And then he prodded me some more when I didn't get it the first time.  (If you want to read how I came to be a blogger, refer back to these two posts:  So I'm a Blogger and Call Me Jonah.)

Whether one person or fifty read what I post, this is some of the most satisfying writing I have ever done.  I feel like I am being obedient to what God wants me to do, and that is a very good feeling!

Who am I?  I am fearfully and wonderfully a writer.  Yeah, I am!