Seasons of Life: the hopeless and the hopeful

The seasons are changing… From Summer, my favorite – a time of shorts and tank tops, flip-flops and icecream. The embrace of the sunshine and days spent with dirt between our toes, grass-stains on our knees… Everything is alive and full.

To Fall, my husband’s favorite – a time to reminisce our dating days, layering up in the cutest scarves and hats. Filling our tummies with pumpkin anything and everything. Hopping from a fall festival to picking apples to a haunted house…

Then will come winter… Beautiful with it’s snow and the joy of the holidays, but quickly turning sour with the bitter cold that never ends.

Our life is full of seasons, as well.

Photo credit: Heather Wilson Smith at stocksnap.io

We have seasons of joy, passion, and purpose. Seasons of pain, loss, and change. Season of child-bearing, and empty nesting. Seasons of marital bliss, and those of strife.

Just yesterday my husband and I were reminded of a tough season in our life, which we finally feel has passed! We were both dealing with loneliness, living in a new state away from our families for the first time. This loneliness mixed with a lack of purpose and direction in my life had turned into a bit of depression and anger.

Tap describes this season as “walking on egg shells.” Every time he called me out on my short fuse, it broke my heart. I felt like I was failing him as his wife. I wasn’t the out-going, happy-go-lucky lady he fell in love with. My shame buried me deeper, and took me farther from the wife he knew.

Thankfully, from the other side, I can say that this was just a season.

Soon, another “summer” came into my life. It was a slow process. That winter of my soul seemed to last as long as the winter of 2013. After a lot of prayer and tears, God placed the right people and right opportunities into my path.

I was put on the Board of Heart-Song, Inc. Through them, I took a class to rediscover my purpose and create action steps for living it out. In time, I found a new job that aligned more accurately with my skills, degree, and passion. Then, my schedule opened up for even more opportunities to pursue the hobbies I love- like art, ministry, and now dance.

I’m not sure what season you are in right now, but know that it is just a season.

Savor the drippy icecream cone of your life, or

Cling to the hope that your winter will pass.

Regardless of what season you find yourself in, it will pass.  But every season also holds a lesson or a promise.  In every dark season, I can see the lessons I’ve learned or the muscles that grew.  Muscles of mercy, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. I learn peace, and I grow in love.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8

What season of life are you in?  What season did you just leave? What lessons were learned?

It’s time to let it go

Our hands can only hold so much.

I can think of several examples, let’s see if you can relate.…

One time, I grabbed every single grocery bag in my car and began to carry it towards the apartment. When I reached the door, I realized that I couldn’t possibly grab my keys, unlock the door, and walk in without dropping half the bags to the ground. #overzealous #fail

So the next time, I unlocked the apartment, left the door open, and then tried the same thing. I went and grabbed every bag so that I would only have to make one trip, and then a bag breaks…. Bananas bruise or the cans begin to roll.

from StockSnap.io by Santalla

Our hands can only hold so much.

I picture full hands and toddlers yanking on your legs or trying to hand you their toy. Making dinner while children scream and your husband tries to tell you a story. I picture ripped grocery bags and bruised bananas.

I picture chaos.

 

And in each of these scenarios, it is best to drop one thing in order to grab another.

It is best to set the groceries down before you try to open the door. It is best to stop stirring the pot and look your husband in the eyes. It is best to let it go, before you grab something else.

 

The Bible often mentions this idea: to let go, in order to grab something better.

To let go of seeking material possessions, and instead grab onto the things that last.  Matthew 6:19-24

To let go of all our grudges and all the sins against us, to grab onto the powerful grace and mercy of God and the forgiveness He offers us. Matthew 6:14-15

To let go of anything holding us back from holding on to God’s blessings, and His exciting plans for our life.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…

Philippians 3:8-9

We have to let go of our own desires: Vanity, materialism, busyness, sleep, television. Whatever it may be that is distracting us from developing a holy desire to do good for the world.

We have to let go of our grudges and our unforgiveness: the time our parents missed our basketball game, the rumor that was spread like wildfire, the friend who stood us up, the person who broke your heart.

Whatever grudges that are holding you back from understanding grace to it’s fullest potential, you need to let go. Let it go so you can finally receive it and offer it to everyone else.

If we hold tightly to the things of this world, our hands will be too occupied to grasp the new, the good, the great.

God wants to fill our hands with blessings, with mercy, love, and peace. If we hold tight to the wrongs of others or the vain pursuits of our selves, we won’t ever be able to grasp the amazing things he has in store for us.

 

Do you have vain pursuits that keep you busy from pursuing God? Do you have someone you desperately need to forgive in order to move forward with peace? Do you keep a record of wrongs?

It’s time to let go, and grab hold of God.

Not too Proud for Pennies

‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Matthew 25:21

Believe it or not, a lot of people will walk down a sidewalk and skip over an abandoned penny. “Oh! It’s just a penny!” they’ll say.

Not my mom, she always told me not to be too proud for a penny. She instilled in me that no blessing was too small. If we deny the small blessings, why would He give us bigger ones?

Another way you could look at it, is that those penny moments add up to make the big blessings.

stocksnap.io

I was reminded of this life lesson when I was on a walk with Tap two days ago.  I hadn’t seen it, but he dropped down and grabbed a penny.

“It was even face up!” he exclaimed through his smile and put it in his pocket.  At the time, I retold the lesson my mom had shared with me.  (She even picked up the pennies that were face down.)

The very next day, on our walk, we both paused and looked down at some crumpled trash on the ground.

It deserved a second look…

It was a five dollar bill!

“Well, would you look at that!” Tap reached down and added the bill to his pocket where his penny still sat. One blessing accepted, a second to follow.

We were surprised, and laughed at the little blessing… we remarked about the coincidences and let the thoughts of my mom’s life lesson turn in our heads.

I don’t expect a bill to follow every penny, but I want to always keep my eyes peeled for the blessings in each and every day.  I want to be sure I don’t pass them up, and that I’m not too proud to notice or appreciate them.  They are all gifts, and they were lavishly given to me.

What are some small blessings you stopped to admire today? What are some blessings you’ve passed over recently?

Why I’m Tired of Hearing “Marriage is Hard”

When Tap and I first got engaged we were constantly reminded by many well-intentioned friends and family that “marriage is hard.”  Hearing this repeatedly sure puts a damper on the excitement of finally being a fiance instead of a girlfriend, the oncoming dreamy wedding, and the happily ever after that follows.  Because of this negative-nancy feeling, I try not to ever say this myself; atleast, not without a disclaimer.

 

“Marriage can be work, BUT it can be fun.”
“Marriage is hard, BUT it is worth it.”

 

Skitter Photo on StockSnap.io

I know there are a LOT of people out there who struggle in marriage, and wrestle with the idea of divorce.  The divorce rate proves that much. Divorce is everywhere, but what about the flip side? How much marital support do we see in today’s culture?

It is easy to side with our dear friends, especially for fear of losing the friendship.  When they come to us with the struggles of their marriage, it can be tempting to add on more reasons why their spouse has failed them.  Quickly the line between sympathy and discouragement is blurred and we become part of the problem-adding another number to the statistic.

Except in the cases of emotional, mental, and physical abuse; what our friends need most is an encourager, a warrior in the battlefield next to them, a personal advocate for their marriage.

We need to step alongside our friends and let them know that they aren’t alone, because, like we’ve all been told, marriage is hard.

Maybe it’s time to put on some humility and let them see a few of our own battle scars.

We should remind them of all the good in their partner, share with them the strength that comes with each obstacle that’s defeated, and share with them that there’s light at the end of the tunnel if they would just.hold.on.

Really, if we attended their wedding, this is what we vowed to do.  They vowed to each other for better or worse.  Then all of the bridesmaids and groomsmen, all of the wedding guests, the father that walked down the isle and the mom crying in the front row, we all attested in that moment that we would fight for their marriage too- That they did not have to fight for it alone, and we would stand by their vows and by their marriage. So, that’s what we should do.

Have you ever felt tempted to join the negativity of marriage? Have you chosen to be the one friend who encourages marriage instead of encouraging divorce? What are some ways you can fight for your marriage and your friend’s marriage?

 

Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated[d] always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?[e]

Proverbs 5:15-20

Does Your Heart have to be in it first to be Considered God-Honoring?

I see my friends, my colleagues, and, in hindsight, I see myself miss out on awesome opportunities all of the time.  God opens doors wide open for us, and we walk past it.  Meanwhile, our hearts are empty and we desire a closer relationship with God.

The reason we miss these doors are numerous.  We can hear ourselves often say, “I didn’t want to do it, because my heart wasn’t in it.”  -or- “I would feel like a fake, it wouldn’t be genuine.”

These excuses could be used for a wide variety of things : Not wanting to sing hymns, or refusing contemporary worship; Not signing up for a service project or praying for an individual; Not sharing the gospel with a stranger; Not forgiving a trespasser; Not going to Church or Sunday School.  Because, “I’m not feeling it, it wouldn’t be genuine.”

In our culture, we give our hearts too much control of our actions.  This often leads us to more heart-ache, which is probably what we are trying to avoid.  We need to lead with our minds, and let our hearts follow.

What if we did our Spouse’s chores when we didn’t feel like it?  What if we chose joy when it would be easier to wallow in our sadness?  What if we offered forgiveness before a grudge set in?  What if we sang praise to God even if we didn’t “feel” the music?

I can hear those excuses surfacing back up again in me already… But that’s not genuine, that’s fake, I need to be real.  Yes, we do.  But we also need to understand that the heart makes some bad decisions.  I can attest to that! My heart has chosen some lousy relationships to follow, and has led me to insecurity and bitterness in the past.  This has taught me that the heart is a much better follower than it is a leader.

You can choose, and your heart will follow.  Soon your heart and mind will work in tandem, spurring each other on towards the goal.  When I let my mind lead, in time my heart will catch up and swell at the enormity of God’s grace.  It will overflow at the opportunity that was seized.  Then my heart begins to crave more.  More good decisions, More love, More service, More grace, More God…. MORE GOD.

Let’s be a little more like Isaiah:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’

And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’

Isaiah 6:8

Have you ever done something when your heart wasn’t in it?  What did you learn?  Did your mind lead your heart closer to God?

Knee Jerk Reactions can Teach Us About our Hearts

Last week, I shared with all of you how my husband and I use walks to reconnect.  I’d like to share a story about a specific walk we shared recently that illuminated a weakness I have.

Often times on our walks we come across a dozen or so bees.  We live in a townhouse in a large neighborhood of rental properties.  With so many shared lots, there are a lot of community mailboxes.  For some reason, bees love these.  They claim these mailbox huts as their own tiny homes.  Whenever we come across one on our path we are sure to find three to nine bees crossing back and forth across the sidewalk as if they were creating an electronic force field.

Bee House AKA Mailbox

EVERY.TIME. Our pace becomes a little faster, and we keep our chins up as if to say to the bees “We’re not scared of you.”  But, in truth, we are.  We are very afraid.  All it takes is for the bee to stray it’s path in our direction and we jump off the sidewalk into the road and run a good five paces until we see the bee has decided to leave us alone.

After a handful of walks, I decided I was going to be brave.  The bees haven’t stun us yet, why should I still be so fearful?  We began to walk towards Bee-Row.  The bee hovered in the middle of the sidewalk, as if staring us down.  Out loud, I confessed, “This bee is going to think he owns us!”  In this moment I was determined to show it otherwise.  Then it juts straight towards us, and I push my husband in the direction of the bee at the same time as I leap toward the street and run.

My husband catches up to me, as I am laughing out loud to myself.  He asked me what that was about, and between laughter I admitted that I sacrificed him for my safety.

Up until that moment I hadn’t planned on sacrificing my husband to the bees.  However, in these knee-jerk moments we realize what lays buried in our hearts.  There are still things, as small as a bee sting, that keeps selfishness and fear rooted in my heart.

What do your knee jerk reactions tell about your heart? What do you have yet to hand over to God? What sin is he trying to chisel out of you?

Sacred Walks

This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

Tap and I like to go on long walks, especially on days like we had this weekend.  The sky was clear, the sun was shining, and there was a light breeze.  It was a perfectly comfortable day… no shivers of cold to touch your spine, and no drops of sweat rolling down your neck.  Instead, it was like slicing through a peaceful dry cloud.

Tap and Em Walking

Walks are sacred for us.  It is a time that we use to wind down from a long day or week and truly connect.  As we step into a rhythm, our hearts and minds seem to do the same.  With each passing step we feel a little more in sync… with ourselves, with nature, and with each other.  The silence allows time for us to process our day; All the things we buried for a later time start to swell up and come out in conversation.

On a walk, there are no cell phones to ring or beeps to announce an incoming text.  Netflix is left miles behind us, along with all of the other comforting distractions of home.  The act of walking allows us to literally feel the separation of “normal life.”  It opens up a space for us to talk and play without interruption, giving us a sacred space to connect, talk, and walk.

When do you feel the most connected to others?  How do you separate yourself from the busyness of life?

Declare : Ephesians Worship

Last Friday night, my husband was a part of Declare.  Declare is a worship gathering put on by the Miami Valley Worship Community.  You can listen to the music here.  Several churches are represented, as each team is comprised of various leaders, denominations, and cities. It is an awesome gathering as many come to worship the One.

tapworship

This particular night was focused on Ephesians.  Both bands did a fantastic job leading us in worship.  It reminded me a lot of the worship services at the Christian Bookseller Association Conferences that I was able to attend growing up.  The similarities would be the modern songs, cream of the crop musicians, and most importantly a strong Christ-Focus instead of a denomination focus… God’s presence was real, the worship was moving, and it was easy to lose myself that night.  I wasn’t even distracted by my own sexy husband playing drums (as I often am), but I was wrapped up in God’s presence.

This is what the night looked like:

OPENING TEAM
This Is Amazing Grace (Wickham, Bb)
Eph 1:3-4 – praise
Behold Our God (Sovereign Grace, C)
Nothing But the Blood (Redman, B)
Eph 1:5-10 – redemption through the blood of Christ
In Tenderness (Citizens, A)
Eph 2:1-10 – made alive in Christ
Raised To Life (Elevation, B)
In Christ Alone (Passion, Eb)
Eph 2:19-22 – Christ the cornerstone
Cornerstone (Hillsong, C)
Eph 3:14-21 – BREAK
CLOSING TEAM
Cannons (Wickham, A)
Forever (Kari Jobe, Ab)
Eph 4:1-6 – unity through one Lord
To Be Like You (Hillsong, C)
Set A Fire (Will Regan, C) – w/ Eph 5:19-20
Eph 5:8-14 – imitate God, living as an offering
The Stand (Hillsong, G)
Eph 6:10-12 – benediction, declare the Gospel boldly
This I Believe (Hillsong, C)
It Is Well With My Soul (D)
New Doxology (Gateway, G)

“One Moment Can Last Forever”

At our all staff Christmas party, our guest speaker read from Wess Stafford’s book, “Just a Minute: In the Heart of a Child, One Moment…Can Last Forever.” Full of stories, she picked just a few to share with the staff; Stories that told how one person in just one moment breathed life into a child that altered their path – or – how in one moment one phrase could dash their dreams and begin a downward spiral.  The book was filled with pages of inspiring stories that began to make you wonder.

After one story, different Heads walked forward to share the one person who inspired them to be who they are today.  Another story, and we were encouraged to share at our tables about one person who encouraged us.  Closing with a final story, we were reminded that our business has a story too and that each of us were a part of it.  At our table we all shared about how we got our position and what led us to this career.  It was a great way to feel a part of something bigger and better than we could be alone.

However, I had a hard time choosing just one person who influenced me. I have been blessed to cross paths with so many wonderful, encouraging, and inspiring people.  My life is full of friends and family members that I cherish and who have loved me into the person I am today.  So I want to begin a journey of thanking all of these individuals for what they taught me or how they loved me.  In the next couple months I’ll be sharing my stories with you here.  I hope that they can remind you of the many people who have blessed your life, and perhaps encourage you to tell them thank you.  Maybe you can reflect on the many opportunities you have infront of you to be the one who inspires.

Christmas Eve Service 2014

“In the beginning – that is where this story begins.  After all the beginning is the most appropriate place for a story to start.  It is much more exciting than any “Once upon a time” could ever be.  And it is even more creative than “a galaxy far far away.” 
This story is a tale of expectation, expectation of great promises and wonderful outcomes.  It is a story of patience in the most unlikely circumstances.  This story is characterized by hope, wrapped in love, expressed through joy, all coming together to bring about a result of peace.  It is a story unlike any other and, more importantly, it is our story.”

That was the opening narration from “Expectation: A Moment in Time”, the Christmas Eve drama that Tappy wrote for his position as Worship Arts Pastor at Troy Church of the Nazarene.  He spent many weeks studying different authors’ work and studying different portions of Scripture and spent several days in his office planning out the details and bringing the characters to life.  His biggest influences for the script were Ann Voskamp’s “Unwrapping The Greatest Gift,” and Max Lucado’s “In The Manger”.

The drama was told from the perspective of a woman reading a version of the Christmas story to her daughter in their living room.  As she worked through the story the characters came to life and the audience’s attention was drawn from the “living room” stage to the main platform in the Worship Center.  The drama was also mixed with familiar carols and each family was asked to bring forth a candle and light it as a representation of their family and the true light that Christ brings into the world.
The storyline was crafted around the expectation of the Advent season and each character personified an element of the candles from the four weeks leading up to the birth of Christ.

HOPE: The first biblical character was Abraham.  He shared about the Hope that God gave to him and his wife through the promise of a child.  The promise was exemplified with the visual of stars and the vastness of the cosmos. (Gen. 15:5)

LOVE: Next the story led to the prophet Isaiah who was called to share the ultimate plan of love to those who would not fully understand the meaning until its fulfillment several hundred years later. (Isaiah 9:6)

JOY:  We were then led into the Gospel accounts as we heard from Elizabeth, wife of Zachariah and cousin to Mary, and what happened to her husband in the temple and the importance of listening to The Lord and being grateful for all that He has given. (Luke 1:13)

PEACE: Finally we heard from a Shepherd, a witness of the manger and the true presence of Majesty.  He shared the importance of Christ’s coming for both the elite and the ordinary. (Luke 2:14)…Tap played the role of the Shepherd, as well as sang and played piano for the service.

In one moment, for that is all it takes to change the world, God broke into humanity and brought Hope to the hopeless, Love to the broken, Joy to weary, and Peace to the restless.  One moment, that is all it took to change the lives of these characters, and that is all it took to grasp the attention of those present.