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!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully...a Mom

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

Being a mom is one of the trickiest parts of my identity to embrace.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my kids as much as any mom.  I love being a mom, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  So stick with me here...this is not in any way intended to be a kid-bashing session.

There was such a longing and a waiting before I became a mom.  I knew that is what I wanted to be for years before I felt "ready" to take on that role.  Go ahead and laugh now...No matter how ready you think you are, you are never really ready when you have children.  No matter how many child development classes you may have had, that precious little baby in your arms will still throw you for a loop!

God created each one of my children with such care and detail.  I love how He took parts from my husband and from me and made them brand new creations.  I know my children and all their intricacies and quirks.  I know who likes what food.  I know who jumps into new things and who soaks in everything like a sponge.  I know who is most likely to get chores and homework done first.  I know who is more likely to be in tune with someone else's emotions and give a spontaneous hug or back rub.  I know their strengths, their weaknesses, and their passions.

Not Robots
But even knowing all of that, they are not robots.  They surprise me (for good or bad) on a daily basis.  I cannot predict their every move.  That unpredictability makes life challenging at times.  It also makes it  incredibly beautiful.  (You can read more about Not Raising Robots here.)

Time Management
A part of motherhood that has been challenging for me is the sheer time management of it all.  The daily balancing act of laundry, errands, quality time, homework, activities, trimming fingernails, cleaning ears, cooking and cleaning up can be exhausting.  This is still a growing process for me.  Some days are better than others.

Dying to Self
I never knew how selfish I was before I had children.  I pretty much did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.  Even getting married didn't change that much: we both pretty well did what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it.  Some of that was together, and some of it was independent.  We were both cool with that.

But parenting... Whoa!  That is a game changer.  Want to take a nap in the middle of the day?  Only if the baby is napping too.  Have more than one child?  The likelihood that simultaneous sleeping in the middle of the day is very, very slim.  Even if you haven't had more than ten minutes of sleep in the last three days, you have to die to yourself a bit and take care of that baby's needs first.  OR, you have to have some sort of communication with your spouse, neighbor, grandma, or friend to take care of that baby so you can get the much-deserved rest that you require.

I used to have a habit of treating myself to a Blizzard from DQ on a somewhat frequent basis.  I would drive through on my way to somewhere and eat it on the road.  A special treat for being stressed or a mini-celebration or whatever.  I will never forget a day shortly after my son was old enough to have a forward-facing car seat.  I went through DQ as per my habit.  I didn't time it, but I believe it took my son 17 seconds or less to recognize and make known that Mama had something he didn't have.  There I was, spoon in hand, turned half around looking at my son, as he verbalized the unfairness of what was happening.  I was frozen as the recognition of my deep selfishness washed over me.

Moments like these-and they are many-have made me refine my motives.  Why am I doing this?  Is it good for my children?  If it's not good for my children, is it really good for me?  I have laid down some things like frequent Blizzards from DQ that were not great for me because I couldn't justify it to myself or anyone else.

Along those same lines, I think being a mother makes me a better Christian.  I do have to lay down my selfish desires on a daily basis.  That may be sharing my Diet Coke (No!  It's mine!) or stopping what I'm currently doing to get a ponytail out of Barbie's hair, or really intently listening to the details of the latest and most improved Lego creation.  But also, I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the example I am setting.  If I do this now, is it something I want my children to do now or in the future?  We have conversations regularly about why we do or don't do something.  Most often my answer is "Because Jesus said..."    If I am going to "talk the talk" of bringing Jesus into the conversation, I have to be doing it too.  My kids will call me out when my words and actions don't match.

Does this mean I'm perfect?  Of course not.  Does this mean every day is a great day?  Definitely not.  I get stressed.  I yell.  I make mistakes.  Things don't go as planned.  This is life.  

But here is the identity piece for me.  God made me to be a mother.  It's part of His perfect plan.  But He didn't just make me any mother.  He made me specifically to be Seth's mom and Hannah's mom.  He created each and every single stitch of them with the same care and love He created me.  He placed these precious gifts called children in my care.  Whether I mess up or get it right, I find my identity in being the mother He created me to be.

Who am I?  I am fearfully and wonderfully a mother. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully...a Twitchel-Taylor-Tellman

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

Over the next few days, I will be examining some different parts of my life that are "fearfully and wonderfully made."  Today is all about family.

What exactly is a Twitchel-Taylor-Tellman?  It's me.  It's family.  These are my people, and I love them.  They get me in a way that only family can.

Let's start with these people...
I was very blessed to grow up in a house where my parents are still married (to each other!).  It was evident from day to day how much they loved, cared, and respected each other.  They are both so generous and laid-back that it was a peaceful place to be.  I don't remember a single time EVER that they argued in front of me.  Now my brother and I...that's a whole different story.  We used to argue all the time.  But good times and bad, I would do anything for these people, and they would for me too.

From 4 to hasn't been just the four of us for a while now.

Taylor Family Pictures 2012

And then there's these people... 
Twitchel Reunion 2014
Twitchel Reunion 2015

 There aren't as many of us as there used to be, but each and everyone means the world to me.  So many good memories:  fishing with Grandpa, all piled up in the back of his old green Ford truck.  Thanksgiving dinners--house bursting at the seams and everything hand-made by my grandma.  Day after Thanksgiving fish fry, up in the attic watching thunderstorms, marathon Monopoly games, teasing from my uncles and cousins, getting stuck up in a tree and needing to be rescued, hide and seek in the laundry chute, my identical cousin...

 For the last twelve years, I have been privileged to be a Tellman.  These aren't just my in-laws.  These aren't just Todd's family.  They have accepted me as one of their own.  They are my family too.  I feel this way about all the aunts, uncles, and cousins too.  There are way too many Tellmans to get all in one picture, but I have never felt like an outsider with them.  

I am so blessed to have all these Twitchels, Taylors, and Tellmans to love and who love me!

 Who am I?  I am fearfully and wonderfully a Twitchel-Taylor-Tellman.

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Easter 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Psalm 139:13 - The 31 Day Challenge

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb."
                 Psalm 139:13

Oh,  I love this verse.  I have loved this one for along time, long before God started speaking the whole Psalm to me.  God created me, every single little part of me.  He put it there by design on purpose for a purpose.  He has given me all the pieces of the puzzle.  All I have to do is put it together in ways that glorify Him.

He knit me together in my mother's womb.  Even before my mother knew about me, God knew me.  He was creating me with loving care.  I love the imagery of knitting me together.  I can just picture the Almighty God on his throne with some knitting needles and a ball of sinew fashioning out unique, perfect babies.  All right, I know.  He doesn't actually need knitting needles or sinew or anything else; He can just speak and they are formed.  But the particular image of knitting resonates with me.  

As someone who spends a lot of time working with yarn, I know that projects take planning, attention to detail, and time.  God did not just pick me off a stock shelf where everything looks just like the next one.  No, he created me with a plan and a purpose, down to the most minute, intimate, even secret detail.  Nothing about the way I am is an accident.

Would you permit me some liberty with this verse?  Sometimes I like to imagine that maybe-- just maybe-- God did not knit me together.  Perhaps he crocheted me together in my mother's womb.  For those of you who are are not "yarnies," (Yes, I think I just made that word up) there are differences between knitting and crocheting.  Primarily, it comes down to the tools.  Knitting uses two needles or hooks, and crochet uses only one.  This allows for the yarn to come together in different ways for distinct stitches and therefore patterns.  Experienced "yarnies" like myself can look at a piece and discern whether it was knit or crocheted.  Whether or not you personally can tell the difference does not matter, but it matters to the crafter.  The one who created the piece.

Something from Nothing

I love looking at at pattern and visualizing what colors I would use for that.  I love seeing a pattern and immediately knowing who might enjoy something like that.  I have a list of projects that I want to complete that is longer than a New York marathon.  I have books, magazines, computer print offs, websites, and downloads for futuristic projects--all for things that I want to do.

Over the summer, I tackled my yarn closet and reorganized it all into neat, color-categorized spaces.  So much yarn.  Sometimes, I am walking through a store, and. I see something that would be perfect for someone I know.  Something about those particular colors reminds me of that person, and I want to do something with it.

My favorite part is taking a skein of yarn and my hook and getting started.  It brings me great joy when I start on a new project.  The foundation row is the most important.  That has to be without mistake, or the rest of the project will be flawed.  Nothing about it will look right if that foundation row is off.  Just like when you build a house, the foundation needs to be right.

The more I work, the more the project takes shape.  Sometimes I can visualize the finished project from the beginning.  I have made enough hoodies that I know exactly how it turns out.  Sometimes I cannot see how the steps I am doing right now are going to look like the picture when I am finished.  

The moment of completion.  Yes!  It looks like it is supposed to.  I love the colors and feel of the fabric I have crocheted.  I am proud of my work.  Another finished project.

I have made something out of nothing.  It was just a ball of yarn, and now it is a baby hat or a mermaid afghan or shark socks.  That is a cool feeling.  But how much more would God the Creator feel this?  First of all, I start with a pattern and yarn and a crochet hook.  But He started with nothing.  No one gave Him a pattern for the world or the people in it.  He didn't look on Pinterest or etsy or YouTube or Ravelry to see what was popular right now.  He had a very specific purpose and vision for me, and He did it.  He has made me into something when I used to be nothing.

Make it Count

I have some self-diagnosed O.C.D. Tendencies.  (Not the cleaning part of that--no way is that me!  I will own up to that now before my husband has a chance to make a comment!). But I like things to be structured and patterned and repetitious.  I find comfort in routine and stability.  

Life does not always provide those things.  In fact, life frequently does not provide me with routine, stability, or structure.  For me, crocheting is a way to create those spaces in my life where they may not exist otherwise.  I find beauty in going through the same type of motions over and over in a repetitive way as the yarn flies through my fingers.  And I like to count things.  In this case, I count stitches and rows to make sure. I am on the right track.  It has a calming effect for me to count.   Even if I am in the middle of a conversation as I crochet, there is a section of my brain that is still going "One, two, three, four, five, six...twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine..."

When I have not had time to crochet or not taken the time to crochet for a few days, I will begin to notice my levels of anxiety creeping up.  I find myself counting things that don't need to be counted or rehearsing things that don't need to be rehearsed.  I may time myself how long it takes to fold a basket of clothes or notice the number of red cars I have passed that day.  When I feel particularly fretful, my mind may suddenly jump to mentally rehearsing an old dance routine or my flute solo from my senior year of high school.

I have no idea why I do that; I just know that I do.

The Work of My Hands

But God has given me a way to keep most of that anxiety at bay.  Not only does the repetitive nature and the need to count things get fulfilled through crocheting, but He has given me a way to bless others.

I very rarely keep anything that I have made.  I give most everything away as wedding shower gifts or presents for new babies.  Sometimes I make something for someone just because I felt led to.  Last year I saw some orange and white yarn that reminded me of my dear friend Cherri and her passion for the Tennessee Volunteers.  I bought the yarn and made her a scarf.  Just because.  Seeing someone open something that I made brings me great joy.  Greater still when I see my handiwork being worn in public.  That tells me that you actually liked it enough to wear it.

If you receive a gift from me, please know that means there is something about you that I love and am drawn to.  I have wandered through Hobby Lobby and looked at two or more yarn catalogs to choose the one that "speaks" to me about you.  I have thoughtfully chosen what to make.  I have prayed over you, your family, and your circumstances asking for God to bless you as I work on your gift.  I have lovingly spent hours working on something that I hope brings a smile to your face.  

The Fruit of My Labor

I have reached a point where I have a small hobby business with crocheting.  I feel blessed that people like things I have done enough to want to pay me for my talents now.  I love it when someone sends me a picture and wants to know if I will make that item for them.  Most often, these projects are something that I have never done before and are often complex and challenging.  They stretch my expertise, and I learn new skills.

Although I receive compensation, I still use this as a way to bless others.  Last year, God laid it on my heart to use the talents He has given me to make a commitment to our church's building fund campaign.  This commitment is above and beyond what my husband and I made together.  He pushed me to go further.  I have committed to giving the income from my crochet skills back to my church.  God has blessed this endeavor.  He brings me the people and the projects; I couldn't ask for a better Marketing Director than I have.  

Deuteronomy 2:7 says, "The LORD has blessed the work of my hands."  I know this is true.  I see it every day.  He gave me a talent, a gift with my hands, and He has called me to use it for others.  God made me this way; he crafted me together down to the tiniest little detail.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Who I Am - The 31 Day Challenge

When I read Psalm 139, it is all about identity, about becoming comfortable in your own skin.  It is about recognizing who God made you to be, how He made you, and His purpose for you.

So today--of all days--seems especially fitting for me to pay tribute to all the different areas that I claim as part of my identity.

Who am I?

  • I am a follower of my LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.
  • I am a wife.
  • I am a mother.
  • I am a daughter.
  • I am a sister, aunt, and niece.
  • I am a godmother.
  • I am a friend.
  • I am a teacher.    There were some seasons in my life where I tried to follow a different path, and it just wasn't a good fit for me.  Teaching is where my heart is.
  • I am left-handed.  That makes me part of an elite group in my mind!
  • I am five-foot-two, eyes of blue, koochie-koochie-koochie-koo.  My grandpa used to sing that song to me all the time.  I don't mind being short because I'm exactly the height he always sang about.
  • I am a Tiger.  I bleed black and gold.  Not only did I graduate from the University of Missouri (M-I-Z!  Z-O-U!), but I also was a black-and-gold tiger through elementary school, junior high, and high school.
  • I am an alumni of the Lee's Summit Golden Tiger Marching Band.  Best in the state.  So many fond memories of the time and the people there! 
  • I am an Indian.  Blue and white are my colors now.  Such a great and caring community that I get to be part of.  It is a huge blessing to be an Indian!
  • I am a dancer at heart.  My schedule (and body) don't allow me to do all the dancing I once did, but it is very much still part of my being.
  • I am a crocheter.  (More on that in a few days...)
  • I am a church member.  My home away from home.  I worship there.  I volunteer there.  I pray there.  I laugh and cry there.  I do life there.  
  • I am West.  I am Gold.  I am a Golden Retriever. (That one is just for my colleagues--they will get it)
  • I am a blogger.  (A fairly new part of my identity)
  • I am an introvert.  I have to have some "alone" time periodically.
  • I am from the Show-Me state.
  • I am still a Kansas City girl on the inside.  I will always root for my hometown teams of the Chiefs and the Royals, winning season or not.  
  • I am a lover of chocolate, coffee, and scrapbooking.  Those things bring me joy, especially when they come all together.

This has been one of the easiest and most fun posts I have ever written.  I challenge you to take some time today to think about the parts of your identity that you love and embrace.  God put those there by His design for His purpose.  He made you that way.  Enjoy it!

So who are you?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Psalm 139:11-12 - The 31 Day Challenge

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 the darkness is as light to you."

These two verses have been the hardest for me to memorize.  It is a bit like a riddle that needs untangling or a puzzle to be solved.  My brain just cannot quite get the words in the right spot.

I recently realized that I had become so focused on trying to get the words straight in my head that I was missing the message.  Trying again to commit it to my memory, I said just those two verses over and over.  The light began to dawn in my head.  (Pun totally intended here!)  

Where can I go to hide from the light?  Logically, we might think we could hide in the dark, but spiritually that is never going to work.  We cannot hide from God.  Even when we are cloaked in the darkness of this world, we still cannot hide from Him.

There are so many verses that talk about light in the Bible from the beginning to the end.  Light is part of the Creation story:  God said, "Let there be light," and there was.  God is the Creator of the physical concept of light.  But it is so much more than that.  Isaiah prophesies that a great light will shine in the darkness.  John the Baptist declares that he prepares a path for the light of the one who is to come.  And then, of course, Jesus himself, "I am the light of the world."  Revelation 21 reveals that when Jesus returns, He will shine so brightly that we won't even need the sun or moon.

So when I think of Jesus being the Light in Psalm 139, it makes more sense to me.  The darkness and night in these verses are talking more about spiritual darkness than anything else.  Jesus is the Light of the World. There is no corner too hidden, no crevice too deep, no far-off space that He cannot-and will not-go.  Nothing is too dark for Him.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives the familiar words about being a light to others.  Don't light a lamp, and put it under a bushel basket.  Light that lamp and set it on top of a hillside where others will be drawn to it.  Reflect His glory through your words and actions.

Not sure where to go?  Jesus will direct your paths.  "Your word is a lamp unto my path and a light unto my feet." (Psalm 119). He will give you enough light for you to keep putting one foot in front of the other; just trust in Him and He will show you the way, one step at a time.

Open up your heart, and let Jesus the Light of the World shine in it and through it!

(Anybody else suddenly feel like singing "This Little Light of Mine"?)