Weighty Consequences

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One news story from last week caught my attention and I’ve been dwelling over the situation. Last week, a popular television show was abruptly canceled after its leading actress posted insensitive, racial remarks to social media. The weighty consequence of her words affected more than just the actress. Hundreds of crew members who worked on the television show lost their jobs and income. Those who poured their talents and time into their work lost a stage to pursue their passion. People associated with the actress found themselves in an upsetting position of issuing statements, defending their beliefs and some disassociating their reputation with the actress.

The reality of the situation highlights the power of words. Words have great weight, great consequences and far reaching impacts. They link us to those we associate with- our families, friends, co-workers, organizations, and our churches. Social media extends our circles of influence and brings a greater responsibility to use our words wisely.

How many times do we casually let words fly off of our lips and fingers without giving much thought of where they will land? Casual complaining, negative or questionable comments and posts plant seeds of negative thoughts and perspective. Maybe we do not think it’s a big deal, but seeds of negativity multiply like weeds into discontentment, entitlement and comparison.

On the other hand, truthful, insightful, encouraging words plant seeds of positive and thoughtful perspective. They grow and blossom into good, noble, just, helpful, and useful thoughts. Words have the power to change perspective, restore peace and relationships, and bring life to situations.

This week, let’s think before we speak and press the post button. Are we using words to build up or tear down? Encourage or discourage? Highlight the positive or spotlight the negative? Are we using our words for positive influence in our circles of friends, family, and coworkers? And let’s remember that even the little comment has the greatest power to change lives and situations.  Go be awesome and speak life!

21 The tongue can bring death or life;
those who love to talk will reap the consequences.

Proverbs 18:21 New Living Translation (NLT)


The Gift of a Flower

This post was inspired by a visit to Wicked Tulip Flower Farms in Johnston, RI. The farm is a special place where you can stroll along five acres of flowers and contemplate the beauty of six hundred thousand tulips in bloom.   

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Months ago, when the air turned crisp, when autumn leaves waved their glorious shades of red and gold, and when frost left its first icy kiss upon the earth, the soil sat and waited. It waited to receive a gift and promised to protect it through the long, harsh winter months. The gift was gently placed in the soil’s safekeeping, carefully covered with wishes and expectations, and then wooed to sleep by the comfort of its soft bed.

Above ground, the wind took a bitter turn. Leaves fell to the ground creating a patchwork quilt of shapes and colors that offered the soil extra warmth. The frost turned to layers upon layers of cold snow, frozen over by an icy glaze. In the darkness, the seed stayed anchored to the life-giving soil. Safe and snug, it rested, waited and persevered day by day through the long winter months.

When it seemed as if winter’s reign would never end, spring forced itself upon the seasonal throne. Snow began to melt and green buds appeared and unfolded in the trees. The sun warmed and kissed the earth, nudging the soil to wake the sleeping gift. The gift stirred. Out of its wrapping, a strong, green stem grew and a bud pushed its way up through the layers of darkness out into the light. It was greeted by glorious sunlight and springtime joy.

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The gift enjoyed its newfound freedom. Basking in the sun, tickled by the breeze, and anchored by its strong roots, it started to uncover its full beauty. Rounded petals of vibrant colors bloomed to reveal a stunning flower of new life and hope. The flower’s cheerful color dulled the memories of the long, dark and endless winter days. Its presence captured the attention of all who walked by and compelled the busiest, most preoccupied and heavily burdened people to stop and admire its bloom.

Without using words, the flower spoke to its admirers. Its beauty reminded busy and preoccupied onlookers of the importance of slowing down and the things they may miss if they don’t. The shape of its petals and pretty little patterns in its blossom helped them remember to give attention to the little things and to enjoy each moment of the fleeting seasons. It emphasized the fact that some things in life cannot be rushed and the best things in life often take time to cultivate before they can bloom.

To the burdened people, the flower spoke of perseverance and hope. It advised them to stay anchored to the life-giving support of God and family in the darkest, harshest and most difficult seasons of life. Its bloom validated their struggles, urged them to keep pressing forward and encouraged them to not give up hope. The flower emphasized the strength and beauty that comes with breaking through the darkness into the light and pointed out that their stories of overcoming would inspire others to do the same.

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For a short time, the flower stood in full strength and beauty. Its presence was a gift to every visitor and gave each admirer something different to contemplate and enjoy. Soon its blossom began to wither. One by one, its petals fell loose and danced to the ground. The soil caught and collected the petals. It welcomed the gift back to its protection and rest. The earth promised to care for the gift until next spring when the gift’s flower would make a glorious reappearance. But until then, the gift would need to rest. Rest and trust in the process and transformation of the seasons and look forward to the time when it could stand tall in the sunlight and give gifts of beautiful messages once again.

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The Storm of Discouragement

The outlook seems bright and promising. Good things are happening, creativity is flowing, love and unity are fueling the hard work taking place, things are moving forward. And then… BOOM. A small complaint. A negative charge is added to the atmosphere.

It’s a little jolt, but you overcome it and keep on going. More hard work, more creativity, more love and passion poured out, more progress. Then BOOM… another jolt, a louder shock this time- a complaint with criticism. With a little more difficulty, you overcome that charge and AGAIN get back to work, back on the path, back to what you are called to do. You keep on going. Until…

BOOM- misunderstanding…

BOOM-more criticism…

BOOM-failure….

This time, you stop and start questioning yourself. Am I making a difference? Is this all worth it?

Unexpected news, rejection, repeated failure, misunderstanding, negativity, complaints and criticism. Little by little these things add to a threatening and dangerous storm of discouragement. And when this cloud of negative charge is unleashed, the resulting damage can be insecurity, isolation, and immobilization. Discouragement is a loss of perception that leads to a loss of joy.

At one point, we will all experience discouragement. Being a Christian does not make us immune from it. So, how can we fight against the perception of discouragement and prevent it from stealing the joy from day, stifling our passions, or causing us to lose our enthusiasm for our callings?

  1. Recognize and repeat the truth.

Satan is a master of deception and disguise. When things aren’t going his way, he feels threatened and will do everything in his power to do something about it. Not only does he whisper lies of fear, he also uses tools of discouragement. He wants the truth clouded by our perception. This makes it even more important, that we open our Bibles, immerse ourselves with the Truth, and let the Word of God cut through the discouragement and allow it to encourage us. We need to read and reread, tell and retell, until the Word shocks us back to life and move us forward in our calling.

For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. Psalm 33:4

   2. Pray

Sometimes things will not make sense. There will be no reason for the reaction, the hurtful comments, and the misunderstood intentions, but you can react by bringing it to Jesus. Bring all it- your discouragement, your honest feelings, your weakness, your hurts, your repentance, and lay it at His feet. Let Him answer you with His loving kindness and receive His grace and peace. He wants to tell you that you are wonderfully and fearfully made and He has equipped you for every good work. Let him make you bold in His strength and power. And find your confidence in Him.

“On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul” Psalm 138:3

     3. Do not give up.

More than anything, Satan wants to see us back down, give up, and immobilized. That’s more the reason to get up, keep pushing forward, and embrace our callings. Going through difficult situations, especially negative ones, makes us stronger. Though they are often not pleasant, new boldness and power in Christ comes out of these times. God is always thinking about others, and you never know how what you are going through now will end up helping someone else in the future. Press on!

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NIV)

     4. Measure obedience rather than success you can see.

Keep your eyes on YOUR lane, your calling, not your neighbor’s. It is so easy to get distracted by what others are doing or by what others may be thinking or saying. You are not responsible for their thoughts or actions, only yours. Be obedient, trust that the Lord has a plan, and stay the course.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

      5. Be thankful.

Discouragement wants to steal your joy! So fight back with gratitude! Gratitude changes perspective. Recognizing the things we are grateful for takes a conscious effort. It might be difficult at first, but start small, make a list of everyday blessings, recall answered prayers, read stories of people who persisted and overcame adversity.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Philippians 4:4

      6. Be a catalyst of encouragement, not a carrier of discouragement.

Negativity is highly contagious and highly destructive. It creates a poor environment for growth and promotes isolation. Unfortunately, a negative word speaks louder than a positive word. A little comment here, a little complaint there. A little venting and a little dissatisfaction wouldn’t hurt anything or anyone, right? Wrong! Sadly, I know this because I have been on both sides of the negativity fence (the giving and receiving.) When words leave our lips they are power-filled and once they are said, we cannot take them back.

We need more people to be catalysts of encouragement. To be the voices against negativity. We need people to be brave enough to stop gossip, reroute a conversation going the wrong way, and speak life instead of death by combating with the Truth. When we encourage people, we let them know that they are not alone and we are cheering them on. More importantly, the Bible tells us that we are to spur each other and encourage each other so we can continue to do good deeds in Christ’s name.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24(NIV)

The fight against discouragement is a very real battle. One that doesn’t always fully resolve overnight with six steps. There is pain and hurt feelings to work though. But I truly believe if we bring it all to Jesus and we cover each other in prayers and with sincere encouragement, collectively we will be a force to reckon and we will be able to confidently walk in our callings in Jesus’ name.

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Ten Years Later- A Letter To Myself

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Photo Credit: Capture NH

Dear Shanna,

I know this is overwhelming and scary. It seems like the hospital exercised poor judgement by allowing you to leave with a baby. Your baby! When those big, glass doors closed behind you, I know you were secretly hoping a nurse would come running after you and bring the two of you back to the “safety” of the maternity ward. But she didn’t come, did she? She sent you off with gentle reassurance and a complementary diaper bag stuffed with humongous maternity pads, a few teeny-tiny newborn diapers, the phone number for a lactation consultant, and a booklet called “A New Beginning.”

What an appropriate title! It feels like you’re starting life over. Any knowledge and educational degrees you’ve acquired over the last thirty years seem null and void. Things are very different than what you read in those books. Those books about what to expect when you are expecting and now you are expecting to have no idea what to expect.

I know you dream of easier days and nights full of quiet, continuous sleep and feel guilty about wishing the days away. I know it seems like time is ticking slowly by and it feels like you are stuck in the movie “Groundhog Day.” The one where Bill Murray finds himself trapped in a time warp and he keeps waking up to live the same day over and over again. Except in your time warp, the day revolves around a baby- Baby cries, pick up baby, soothe baby, check diaper, change diaper, feed baby (for like hours), baby sleeps, you should sleep, baby cries and repeat. Repeat over and over again, every 3 hours or on demand, for what seems like every future day.  I know you wonder if you will live life at some sort of a predictable, “normal” rhythm EVER again.

I know it feels like you have completely lost yourself and wonder if you will ever find yourself again. I know you’re anxious, hesitant and constantly questioning yourself as you weed through a tremendous amount of information and opinions and try to make a variety of good decisions on behalf of your sweet baby. Very kindhearted people with good intentions offer you advice but since you are so overtired, oversensitive, and overwhelmed you cannot appreciate their wisdom. Or maybe more than that, some of their advice makes you feel like you are doing it all wrong or even worse, it’s a reminder that you are not enough. And even though you are surrounded by people, I know you feel very alone.

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Photo Credit: Capture NH

Ten years later, I can tell you the hospital did not make a mistake. It may have been a rocky start at home adjusting to everything new but no mistake was made. God picked you to be your baby’s mother. He knows you can do it, gives you everything you need, and you can rest in that. Hold onto that truth and embrace it during the long days and nights. Repeat it constantly to yourself and especially when the hospital sends you home two more times, with two more babies.

Your life has started over but in a new and beautiful way. Those degrees you acquired in school will be used again but the type of degree you are working on now does not come from schoolwork but lifework. This is a never ending study in unconditional love. It requires time, patience, mistakes, forgiveness, grace, sacrifice and it changes everything. Through the lens of love, relationships and the world will look different. You will begin to understand the sacrifices your mom made for you and what it means to be loved by Jesus in a way that brings you to tears almost every time you think of it. And as far as the what to expect, you will never know what to expect because each day, each baby, brings new challenges and blessings. It’s a constant practice trying to be content and present in the very moment. Oh, and just when you think you have something figured out, it all will change. So, expect the unexpected and expect love.

The days will get easier, you will get more sleep and sleep is awesome. Easier is relative though. In some ways it will be easier and in others ways more difficult. The cliche is true! Time goes by quickly, much more quickly than you ever thought it could. One day, instead of wishing the days away, you’ll wish they would stay. (Maybe the trade off for sleep is fast moving time?) Your life will find a predictable rhythm again but every season will have a different rhythm. And you’ll love the changing rhythms because you do not like boring, and motherhood is far from boring.

About the anxiety and sad feelings, it was a good decision talking with the doctor. What you see as an extra burden now, God will heal through medicine and faith and use this in ways to empathize with other moms and others dealing anxiety and depression. You will always have the threat of doubts and fears but you will persevere and overcome them with confidence in His strength. You will need to work on your “perfectionist” tendencies though and embrace the imperfections and the mistakes because those will make you better not worse.

BTW, you are not enough. At least, not enough on your own. You need Jesus and community more than ever before. Let down the walls. Let others in. Ask for help. Don’t try to do life alone. One of the greatest communities you will find will be in a MOPS group. You’ll find friends, faith, and freedom there. MOPS will encourage and equip you to be the best mother, woman, and leader you can be. It will help you find purpose and give you opportunities to practice confidence in the next things that God is calling you to do.

Make time for family and friends. Embrace your church family and the women in it. Their lives and experiences, their stories shared with you, are gifts. Gifts worth more than any amount of money can ever buy. You will see the importance of their words when you are not so overtired and overwhelmed, and you will come to crave being taken care of by them, tucked under their wings, and covered by their prayers. Your heart will swell a thousand times over when your babies are welcomed into these communities and loved by your friends too because we are better together.

Shanna, you are doing a good job even when you think you are not. Take one moment at a time. Remember, the challenging moments are more valuable because they are richer in experience and make you stronger. And even though it’s good now, the best is yet to come. Motherhood is an amazing, special gift.

With Love,

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A New Look (and if you are new here, Hello!)

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“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Those words were printed on a tiny, magazine clipping handed to me by a mentoring teacher. It was right after a devastating student teaching observation in which a professor had told me that I was “too enthusiastic” and I needed to “tone it down” while teaching. His words cut to my core, my very being, because by nature (and by God’s design) I am a very enthusiastic person. I have always tried to embrace learning and life with joy. After school that day, I sat in the classroom with my mentoring teacher. She took the time to listen to my every sobby, tear-drenched word. She reassured me there was no such thing as too much enthusiasm in teaching or life. Her words, compassion, and encouragement helped heal a wound and gave me the confidence I needed to continue in teaching and also to fully embrace who I am. The quote has become one of the songs for my life. Many times over the years, I have held the now-faded and battered clipping in my hand, remembering the kindness shown to me and how the smallest amounts of kindness, joy, enthusiasm, and encouragement can do great things in the world.

EMBRACE ENTHUSIASM is a blog focused on faith, learning, and purposeful living. It’s written by me, Shanna Crowell. I live in New England with my pastor husband and our three children. I am a former public school teacher and now use my education when speaking to groups, in church ministry, and in homeschooling my children. My heart’s desire is to serve and encourage women, help people find their identity in Christ, and help equip people to use their God-given gifts and talents to live life with greater purpose and enthusiasm.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working on updating, reorganizing, and creating some new things on the blog and on my Facebook page. I hope you will be encouraged by what you read and see here, join in the conversations, and be inspired to try something new.

Many blessings for a great day!

Peace and Love,

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One Word for 2017: INSTRUMENT

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There are too many good words to chose from and I went back and forth before deciding on THE word. The one word which will serve as a lens to view life through and a word to focus on in 2017. It’s a word I will explore and ask God to use to help me to grow in character and in faith. My word for 2017 is INSTRUMENT.

It wasn’t a word I had considered. I could have missed it. I discovered the word while watching a scene from a TV show aired on the Hallmark Channel. I know, I wish I could say I was led to the word in prayer or while studying my Bible or reading classical literature written by some famous, great author, or even heard the word from a motivational speaker or pastor. No, it was through a TV show.

In this one particular scene, a character held a worn Bible in his hand (at least it was a wholesome TV show) and carefully turned to the inside of the cover. Holding his breath in anticipation, he found what he had hoped would be there and thoughtfully read the inscription (the following prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.) The words sparked new resolve in him, renewed his faith in himself and his mission. In classic dramatic action, he took off running with his Bible in his hand, sprinting to bring healing to a situation and leaving me to think about St. Francis’s prayer. The word INSTRUMENT lingered in my head all night and the following day.

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The next night, I was watching another television show. This one about a group of nuns and midwives from London who traveled to a struggling mission hospital in Africa. I know it is just a TV show but I was inspired by the characters and story lines. Each character using their gifts and INSTRUMENTS, whether faith-based or science-based, to bring hope and healing to lives. By the end of the special, I was ready to buy plane tickets to Africa, move my family, and join some mission field hospital!

Granted these shows are fictional, the settings staged, the characters imagined, but the story lines are not all that different from the true stories and realities of our world. There are lost people. People who have lost their faith and faith in themselves. Hurting people who need light and hope. People with physical needs- food, clothes, a roof over their head and emotional needs. People who need to be heard and loved. People who need someone to come alongside of them and need to know they are not alone or forgotten. And I want to get in there, in the middle of it as an INSTRUMENT, as a tool in God’s hand.

Whether that means working in the little things, everyday life with everyday people or building something big, with new people, outside of my comfort zone, I am praying that God will use me for his glory. A tool by itself is useless. It is only effective in the hand of one who knows how to use it. For me to be an effective tool, I need to know the One who is using me and for what purpose. Part of my 2017 plan is to read through the Bible and focus on the gospel. Particularly, I am feeling led to the gospel of Luke. Some of my blogging, writing, and speaking engagements over the next months will be on my study of Luke.

I hope your new year is off to a great start! I am looking forward to studying, learning, and trying new things in 2017. If you have a word or goals for the new year, I would love to hear and pray about them for you.

Until next time,

xoxo

Shanna 

 


Nancy Drew and Jessica Fletcher

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I love a good mystery! But what makes a mystery so great? Trying to piece together the clues? Testing theories against logical thinking? Or is it thinking about the possibilities of impossible things?
 
Nancy Drew and Jessica Fletcher are two of my favorite fictional heroines.They both share a keen perspective, ask the right questions, make accurate deductions, and find themselves in adventurous (and somewhat dangerous) situations. All the while they meet the most interesting of characters, solve the case, and seem to enjoy every minute of it. (Or at least the majority of the minutes, when their lives are not in danger…)
 
If we think about it, don’t we all have a little bit of Nancy and Jessica in us? Thrown into the great mystery of life? Trying to figure out the possibilities in impossible situations? Making deductions with what we know and moving forward testing our theories? Some of us trying to get out of dangerous situations? Crossing paths with some of the most interesting people and always, always learning something new?
 
I will never figure out all the mysteries of life (not while I’m here on earth) but I may be able to solve a small “case” here and there. I can get to know the people I meet and piece together clues to love and serve them better. I can ask questions and make deductions based on what I understand to be The Truth. I can marvel at scientific discoveries and wonder about vastness of God’s creation. I can put myself out there, in the middle of messes, take risks and chances, and embrace the places I find myself in.
I can do all of this because I have peace and confidence. Peace given to me by the One who has all the answers, who has solved all the mysteries, and who has created all things. Confidence in my relationship with Jesus. In this, I find safety and freedom to wander, to wonder, and securely step out and into what the Lord is calling me to do. So take hold of wonder, observe, question, search, dream, move forward in peace, and learn something new. Mystery and adventure awaits! 

Many, Lord my God,
    are the wonders you have done,
    the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
    were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
    they would be too many to declare.

Psalm 40:5 (NIV)