2019 Word of the Year- HABIT

It could just be me, but I seem to hear more about breaking bad, unhealthy habits than building good, healthy ones. While eliminating bad habits is an admirable, brave and an important thing to do, it’s more important to replace those tendencies with new systems and support. Add the action to the inspiration. Put the “how” into the motivation to change.

That’s where I feel things are lacking. There is an endless supply of motivational quotes and memes. Things that get us thinking about change, but what happens next? How do we actually take the next steps to action? Are there things holding us back? Maybe it’s the lack of time, maybe it’s the effort required, or maybe it’s the overwhelmedness of where to begin. Maybe there’s something more to help us make those next steps to healthier, consistent and permanent good habits. I want to explore all of these things this year. 

My word focus 2019 – HABIT.  My goals include pursuing healthy habits in my heart and mind with grace driven, spiritual disciplines. I want to cultivate good habits in my children’s lives and around our home. And I want to incorporate healthy habits for the better physical health of my family.

Building new habits require work and perseverance that lead to character and transformation. Through this year’s word journey, I’m sure I will have my share of hard work, fumbles, fails, and mistakes as I work toward change and transformation. I’m hoping to share with you want I learn and I want to encourage and equip you as I do. Stayed tuned for what I am sure will be a great journey!

Do you have a word for 2019? If so, I would love to hear what you have chosen?  


Out With a Bang… A Year of Growth

Twenty eighteen went out with a bang. An actual, literal bang.

I was having a great hair day. I had just left my hair stylist and needed to pick up a few things at the store before going home. The traffic was heavy, but I knew a shortcut. I zipped right by the line of cars and laughed at my good fortune of avoiding the long wait. When I arrived at the market, I was even happier and pleasantly surprised to find an open parking space right in the front of the store. Everything seemed to be in my favor!

About one minute later, my positive mood and character were challenged. Pulling into the parking space, I took the turn a little wide. An awful metal scrunching, fiberglass crunching noise accompanied the turn. It took me a minute to figure out what had happened. Did I really just bang into and swipe the PARKED car next to me? I hoped I had imagined the noise, but from the looks of the people passing by, I knew it really happened. I put my van in park, slowly stepped out and shamefully walked around the back. Silver streaks from the front of my van beamed and highlighted the dark gray fender of the other car. Ugh!  

The driver of the car was not there. For a split second, I dabbled in the thought of what it would be like not to have a conscience and enjoyed a scandalous moment of how easy it would be to leave the scene. Conviction quickly crushed the faintest of wrong thoughts to a complete close. My conscience and the Holy Spirit gave me forceful push forward into the market on a journey to find the owner of the struck vehicle.

How do you find a stranger in a whole store of strangers? Embarrassed and annoyed at myself for getting into this situation, I mulled over the next steps. I called my husband for support. I walked in and out of the store several times. I talked to myself- possibly aloud. I most likely looked crazed. I needed help.  

It seemed best to start at the market’s little café. I walked up to the hostess and explained my situation. She smiled a gracious smile and told me without criticism that everything was all going to be okay. She tried to encourage me with the fact that most people would have just left (yep! But, no, not an option.) She said she would do what she could to help me find the car’s owner.

Within seconds, the hostess had a team of people in action- she mobilized the servers. She sent word to the employees in the back room and at the serving counters. The open layout of the store provided me a full view of the word being spread. With each person told, I waited to see if they would stand up and move forward to me in annoyance and irritation. It took less than ten minutes to ask everyone and no one stepped forward. I thanked the hostess for her help and walked back out of the door disappointed the situation was not resolved.

Back at the van, I scribbled a note of apology, with my contact information, on a ripped piece of scrap paper. I tucked it under the other car’s windshield with a prayer. About thirty minutes later, I received a phone call from a very nice man explaining he was the owner. “Accidents happen,” he said. He even thanked me for being an outstanding person for taking responsibility. The hardest part was over, an insurance claim was made, it was all very easy, and we all went on with the rest of the day.

This small little blip in my day had not destroyed my peace or happiness. It did not wreck my good day nor did it cast a gray shadow over it. This tiny accidental bang gave me one more intentional opportunity to test out some things I had been working on all year.

Growth- my chosen word of the year. Growth in my responses versus my reactions. Growth in my resilience. Growth in the knowledge of what’s important and what’s not. Growth in the ability to ask for help, to let things go, and to be able to accept my mistakes with grace and understanding. These things and more.

If this small incident happened at the beginning of 2018, at a time when I was stretched too thin by over commitments, running around with my priorities out of sort, and in a place of depriving myself grace, this little incident would not have been so little. It would have taken up way more emotional space than it deserved and would have skewed my perceptions of my abilities. It would have left a negative mark on my day.  

“All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort. And effort means work.”
Calvin Coolidge

 

In many ways, this was one of the most flourishing years of growth that I’ve experienced since becoming a mother ten years ago. It was also a continual season of hard work provided by challenging situations that were taxing physically, emotionally and spiritually. I experienced both the pain and beauty of growing. And it often came in unexpected ways at unexpected times.

The most important thing for me, was to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18.) With this as the foundation (or soil,) everything else I wanted to grow in would flow from it- the way I think, act, respond and love. When we are rooted in a place of truth, secure in our identity of Christ, and nourished by the grace and love of Jesus, the perfect atmosphere of growth is created. The more I meditated on things of God, the more I felt a greater inclination to change and an intentional shift to focus more on life’s important things.

When we are rooted in a place of truth, secure in our identity of Christ, and nourished by the grace and love of Jesus, the perfect atmosphere of growth is created .

My priorities needed to be rearranged. I reevaluated my schedule and our families activities. What once seemed pressing and demanding, seemed like things that could wait. I worked hard to create a balance of work and rest.  I wasn’t perfect. Many times things went off-kilter. There were times I felt overwhelmed. But instead of staying in the rushed craze, I used those times of induced stress, hurrying, and irritation to remind myself why the balance was important. I breathed more slowly, lingered with my children longer, asked for forgiveness A LOT, and prayed constantly.

By the work of the Holy Spirit, grace and love for others grew in ways greater than ever before. My eyes were open wider to seeing people for who God created them to be and seeing their need to feel loved and valued in different ways. I tried to take time to sit and listen to people, give them my attention. I felt (and feel) compelled to hear their stories, give them a chance to use their voice. I pray my words and actions in those conversations and interactions, left streaks of grace and love beaming and highlighting their lives.

The hardest part of growth is the pruning part. The part when things are cut away,and weeded out to make room for healthy growth. This year brought about a lot of change and pruning. I had to say goodbye to expectations, to some people and a role I loved. I had to keep reminding myself that it was all for the good. That it would work out the way it was suppose to, all in the right time. I tried hard not to let the “goodbyes” be a distraction, but allowed myself some time to grieve. I kept moving forward in the direction I felt God calling me too. And I’m still moving. Moving and growing. 


The hardest part of growth is the pruning part.

Growth doesn’t halt at 2019. It doesn’t change because a yearly focus word changes. It doesn’t stop, even when we wish it would. It is always a continual process in all our lives. The important thing is what we do with the opportunities and how will we respond to the situations that will grow our character. We will be embrace them? Or with the opportunities make us wither back in fear, anxiety and selfishness?

Growing is not easy. It’s messy, and effort is needed. But the end result is beautiful and good. For many of us, we do not have to grow alone. When we actively seek to grow as a person, desire to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord, and rely on dependence of Jesus, the courage and strength to do this type of character growing is available to us. There are people who want to help us too. They want to cheer us on, tell us that we are outstanding people (even when we feel unable, messy and foolish) and maybe mobilize a team of other people to help us find the things we need. Let them.  

I think all of us should start 2019 with a bang! Hopefully, not an actual, literal bang like an accident. But a bang of growth. It’s a new year to take responsibility. A chance to reevaluate priorities. A time to embrace challenge. And an opportunity to ask for and accept help more often. Be on the lookout for the beauty that comes out of all of it. You may be surprised where you find it.  I’m cheering you on. Happy New Year!

   Love,

Love,

The Gift of Today

There are many ways to respond to a gift. When the gift is something we want, it’s easy to react in delight and excitement. Unwanted, unwished for, and undesirable gifts are much harder to receive. It can be difficult to respond with gratitude and grace. It’s best to accept these presents with a polite smile, a “thank you,” and a focus on the heart and (hopefully good) intention behind the gift.

The gift of today is unique. It will bring something different to everyone. Some of us will be delighted. Others will struggle to respond gratefully to what may seem like useless and confusing things. We may wish we could return unwanted, ugly things and situations. We can’t. Time can not be returned. We need to figure out how to make the best use of them and learn from each situation. Many times, undesirable things are useful and needed things for the future. They are surprise gifts that help us grow into stronger, more experienced people and allow us to relate to and help others.

There is something good to be found in each day. Embrace today’s opportunities as chances to change our perspectives and be a gracious receiver. Pause and intentionally choose to respond in gratitude and joy- even when it’s challenging and difficult to do. And make today a gift for others. Regift your time in acts of kindness and show love in action that will keep giving long into tomorrows.

What will you do with your gift of today? ❤

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11


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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