To Oz and Back

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On Sunday, I was joking with a friend about how crazy and busy last week was. There were church meetings to attend, our last MOPS meeting to run, a local MOPS Leadership Training to facilitate. Add those things to the regular housework, homeschooling, and everyday tasks and I felt like Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz. Picked up by a tornado on Monday, whipped and whirled through the week, crash landing in the weekend, and wondering how I got there. But instead of Dorothy’s wide-eyed wonder as she explored the beauty and splendor of the new place she had just arrived, I felt more like the Wicked Witch of the East, flattened and lifeless by a week of events the size of a house.

After these big weeks and big events, I can get really good at self-criticizing and critiquing all the things that did not go as I had expected, analyzing things I said or didn’t say, and overthinking people’s reactions. Over the years, I have been able to recognize these tendencies in myself and have tried to implement a few ways to guard my heart and my mind. Like the water splashed on the Wicked Witch of the West, I have learned to throw “water” onto my own negative thoughts, insecurities, and doubts to shrink them down to a nonthreatening size.

When I find myself on the other side of the “rainbow,”  I……

Celebrate:  

I treat myself to a cup of coffee and a sweet treat and celebrate what has just happened. I think about all the good work that was accomplished, the people who came alongside to help get it done, and the strength and energy that God gave me to finish what needed to be completed. Instead of thinking about all the things that did not go as expected, I celebrate the unexpected things, the surprises along the way and the opportunities I was given to love and serve others. Leading up to an event, I spend hours in prayer. An equal amount of time should be spent devoted to praise and with a posture of gratitude when the event is over.

We ought not to leap in prayer and limp in praise. -Charles Spurgeon  

 

Rest:

To be honest, this is probably the most difficult of the three things for me to do. It takes time for my adrenaline infused body time to calm down, be at peace, and rest without movement. I usually have to push away feeling of guiltiness that come around to remind me about the laundry needing folding or the dishes needing to be washed and put away. But here is the thing, there will always be a thousand things to do.

Rest is not selfish but it is necessary and especially vital after a busy week. Rest is needed to restore and refresh our hearts, minds and spirits. The Bible speaks of rest in many places and God’s gift of Sabbath gives us permission to rest, even when all of our work is still unfinished.

“It’s best to give myself a few days to rest and replenish emotionally and spiritually before I delve into reviewing a ministry event I just led or a speaking engagement I’ve just completed”

Jodi Detrick, The Jesus-Hearted Woman

Notice Goodness: 

There is always good to be found. Always.

Only after I have celebrated and rested, I feel as if my emotions and thoughts are clear enough to start to evaluate and review the busy week or big event. I ask myself: What went well? What needs to change? How can I do things more effectively? Who can I bring in to help?

I have some very special people in my life who I trust wholeheartedly and know they have my best interests at heart. I will often debrief my week/event and share with them my thoughts and perceptions. I trust them to give me honest feedback and advice.. Sometimes,  what I hear is not all rosy and a pat on the back. I appreciate the constructive criticism my people offer because I know that they want to see me grow in my faith, leadership, and as a person. In her book, The Jesus-Hearted Woman, Jodi Detrick says, “There are times when we need a rebuke even more than we need a compliment.”

Goodness makes greatness truly valuable, and greatness makes goodness much more serviceable.- Matthew Henry

Whether you find yourself in Kansas or in Oz, walking the yellow brick road or the halls of a church, falling asleep in a field of poppies or on the living room couch, know that you are enough. Keep going, step by step, and allow friends to come alongside you on what every journey you find yourself on. Rest when you can and know that you can always go “home” when ever you want. There is no better place then home. Well, expect maybe home with a short list of things to do. 🙂

 

 


A Selected Winner

A Selected Winner

I love receiving mail! I ogle over the Pottery Barn catalogs, shake my head at the quantity and quality of political advertisements, and I used to open up almost every single Publishers Clearing House envelope. The envelopes quite clearly stated that I was a “selected winner” and commanded “final steps were required” to take.

How could I argue and what did I have to lose? For four months, with delusional hopes of winning, I painstakingly stuck every sticker/stamp in the correct place of the catalog all while avoiding household duties and screaming children. After the finalist papers had been mailed in, the house was still a mess, the kids were still screaming and no Prize Patrol, balloons, or an oversized check came to my door.

But the other day, a beautiful, handwritten note of encouragement arrived in my mailbox. The real mailbox. The one located in front of my house on the side of the street.

The envelope did not proclaim that I was a “selected winner.”There were no blaring, red words stating “final steps required” on the front. No stickers to be stuck, no catalog to go through, no other mailings required. Yet, I knew that this letter represented that I was a winner and a prize worth more than money was waiting for me within the words the note contained.

The card was sent from a dear friend (and mentor.)  A friend whom I can depend on and who I trust with my deepest fears and insecurities. A friend who laughs with me, celebrates with me, mourns with me, prays with me and for me.  But best of all, this friend allows me to be me. She loves me for who I am. The good and the work-in-progress. If you have a friend like that, consider yourself an ultimate winner!  There is something liberating and powerful, so divine in a friendship like that. And I am so blessed to have more than one friendship like that.

I did not wait to get into the house but opened the card in the driveway. Each word I read, sunk into my heart. It was a card about me. All the good things that my friend noticed in me.  Leadership skills, vulnerability, faith, and friendship. She called them out one by one in careful, thoughtful, and encouraging way. Have you ever received a letter like that? It is life giving.

The envelope did not state there were “final steps required,” but there were final steps that I wanted to take.

1.) I praised God for the blessing of friendship and the encouragement of others. If you do not have friends in your life, why not pray about it. Ask the Lord to put some people in your path that will be a blessing to you. If you a mom, a MOPS group is a great place to find some friends.

2.) Be an encourager! Each week, one of my goals is to write at least two letters/cards of encouragement to friends and family. It doesn’t need to be a long letter. Just a note to let them know that I am thinking of them, praying for them, and to call out something good that I see or admire in them.  And then pray that the letter arrives at just the right moment.

Make someone a “winner” today.  Mail a “prize winning” envelope today that includes a prize worth more than money. A prize of encouraging words that bless their day.

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PS….One final note on Publishers Clearing House, if you happen to be curious, purchasing something (let’s say three super sharp, never dulling, crystallized scissors and two amazing, can’t-find-them-anywhere-else-yes-you-really-can pencil sharpeners) from the PCH catalog, that really, REALLY does not give you a better chance of winning (exactly as the fine print says.) JUST SAYING!


The Red Line

The Red Line

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

I bravely and joyfully walked up to my unknown neighbor’s walkway and stood ready to ring the doorbell. The feeling was a familiar one. I felt as if I was fifteen-years old again, carrying the tattered Romans Road prayer card in my hand, confidently uncertain I had the right words to lead anyone to the One who could save their soul from eternal damnation. Now much older and more confident, I held another tattered book in my hand and looked out over the beautiful faces of my group. It wasn’t the First Baptist Youth Group Evangelism Team that stood in front of me. It was twenty-five, enthusiastic, joyful church members holding matching tattered books-caroling books ready for adventure. They were my fellow companions on an adventure of song through the church neighborhood. Our mission, to spread Christmas cheer and joy to our neighbors.

Up until today, my caroling experience was limited to junior high choirs and visitations to nursing homes. I had never been caroling door to door before. We only had a loose plan. Walk, sing, and ring a doorbell here and there. It seemed easy enough and I was fairly confident it would be great fun. I was not prepared for what God had prepared for this day.

At each house, we sang a few songs, presented a kid-made Christmas card, and asked if there was anything we could pray for with them. No questions about knowing where they were going when they died, no judgments, and certainly no expectations. To our surprise, many people shared their stories of hurt, pain, and loneliness and so many people accepted the invitation for prayer. Humbly we prayed, lovingly we hugged, and joyfully we sang and smiled.

The world needs more HOPE, LOVE, and JOY.

I came back home on a Holy-Spirit high! I was so grateful and so humbled that God entrusted us with this type of “work.” In between my thinking and praising, I started to visualize a red line, like a ribbon, that stretched back to my childhood, trailing through present time, and continuing on through my unknown future.

Following the red ribbon back in time, I came to many different situations, opportunities, and experiences which seemed normal at the time. Everyday living, everyday interactions, everyday moments now seemed sacred and holy. Some of those encounters with people, places, and experiences specifically prepared me for the work God has for me to do now AND the work He has for me to do in the future.

My family, the church I grew up in, the correspondence Bible classes at age eight, prayer meetings that lasted long into the night, Christian friends/non-Christian friends, Southern Baptist summer camp, street evangelism with my youth group, college, separation from the Lord, teaching, and marrying my then teacher-now pastor husband. Some of these moments were fun, great, and exciting. Some of these moments were trying, painful, and paralyzing. But each of these moments stand as a marker, an ebenezer, of God’s help and faithfulness on the red line of my life. 

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. 

Jeremiah 29:12-14

I have no idea what’s in store for me next but God does. Some days, I am guilty of spending enormous, wasteful amounts of time feeling anxious, worried, and fearful about what the future will hold. I dwell on the next big thing the Lord is calling me to do, all the while almost missing out on what He has planned for me to do right at that moment. I can drive myself loopy with all that thinking. And while, it is good to think about future plans, dream, and prepare; it is wrong to be so caught up with worry and fear that you cannot seek the Lord with your whole heart.

We have a short time left in this year. This season comes so many emotions. If you are dealing with an anxious, hurting, fearful heart, I encourage you to ask God to replace the worry, fear, and weariness with peace, hope, love, and joy. If it is difficult to do, try following your red ribbon back in time, searching for markers of God’s faithfulness. You might be surprised what you find. Some markers will be easy to locate, wrapped in lots of red ribbon and right out in the open; but others might be hidden, tied with a simple bow waiting to be pulled out and discovered. Each marker is a gift from our Lord and our hope and assurance that our future rests in Him.

Live out each day for what it is. Embrace the people and interactions that come into your path. We may never know how God will use them in our future or in the future of another person. Lastly, enjoy! Enjoy this season for the hope that it brings and the peace that is offered. Embrace it all with the Lord’s help.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

Romans 8:28  


On Sickness

We had made it three steps into the store, when my son began making an unpleasant but familiar retching sound. I didn’t even get a chance to think. He had already thrown up all over me and the floor of Rite Aid Pharmacy. Helpless and stuck in a puddle of sickness, I was not sure what to do next.

Almost eight years as a mom and this was a first for me. I had been ignorantly hopeful that I could escape a public display of sickness by one of my own.

My thoughts were interrupted by my crying son who was vomiting a second time, this time all over the store’s New England Patriot’s holiday merchandise display. Standing behind me, my daughter looked on in both horror and shock. I could relate! My composure and confidence were gone. I wholeheartedly yelled for help.

Out of the aisles, from every direction, a team of people came.  The first responder was a friendly, emphatic cashier. She spoke to my son in a soothing and comforting voice, “It’s okay, honey. Everyone gets sick sometimes.”  A stout, unemotional, authoritative manager came next. With her she carried an empty, plastic candy container which she tossed at me with skill and the authority as to say, you are a mom, you know what to do, now do it.  The third team member was a pleasant young man rolling a mop and bucket towards us with a smile. Cheerfully and dutifully, he cleaned up the mess with no judgments or a bad attitude, making small talk as he mopped.  When the cleanup was complete, our $300 + damaged merchandise bill was forgiven, and we were sent on our way with our souvenir plastic candy container. What had just happened???

Unfortunately, this was not the only sickness that I have been dealing with. From the outside I seemed a little tired but otherwise healthy. But in the weeks leading up to the pharmacy fiasco, I have been struggling with sickness of my own.  I had let my guard down and allowed lies, self-doubt, discouragement, lack of faith, joy, and hope a place to take hold and grow in my heart and mind. I was tired, some days in a very bad mood, and everything seemed just plain difficult.  I tried to pull myself out of it by halfhearted prayers, routine Bible readings, and depending on the prayers of others on my behalf.

I kept trying to heal myself with everything I knew how to do.  And I wondered why I wasn’t “getting better.”  It wasn’t until I was completely helpless, sinking down in my own puddle of sickness, not knowing what else to do, when I called out wholeheartedly to God, “HELP!”

Out of bends and corners of my heart and mind, the TEAM emerged. A peace that I had prevented myself from receiving started soothing the cracks of my weakened heart and mind. I heard the conviction of the Holy Spirit telling me,  you know what to do, now do it!  Verses and Bible passages that I passively read before, beckoned me to take a second look.  I reread passages about joy and thanksgiving through suffering, identity in Christ, faith, hope and love. I let the words linger and impress on my heart.

It was work. Some days were very hard.

I am still working on it. Some days are still hard.

But with God’s help, I am shifting my perspective and working on setting my eyes to see the good things happening around me. That means even in the sickness, sleepless nights, the hard stuff, the humiliating stuff there is always, always good stuff to see and blessings to be found.  Blessings like emphatic cashiers and cheerful, throw-up-cleaner-uppers.

I am persevering through doubts and lies by repeating and dwelling on the truths that I read. I am constantly resetting my mind to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8.) I have decided to surround myself with people that are uplifting, loving, and that have my best interests in my mind. And I am working to let go of control- my failing, imperfect, human strength and working on holding on to the perfect, all-powerful, never-failing strength of God.

There really is no I in TEAM. Whatever you are struggling with today, I hope you take a moment to surround yourself with a team of loving people, a God who cares deeply for you, and depend on the Holy Spirit to convict and guide you.  Shift your eyes to notice the good things. Find laughter in the difficulties. Come away from life’s situations with souvenirs of peace, joy, and thanksgiving.


Timeless Comforts

timeless comforts

She rummaged through her wallet searching for something specific. Her soft, aged, wrinkled hands worked tediously through each pocket and in and out of every fold. She knew that it was there but where it was she was not certain. The rest of us looked on in great anticipation as to what object would be pulled from its hiding place. With a smile and a sigh, she pulled out what seemed to be a photograph. She motioned me over and gently placed it in my hand.  I looked down to see a handsome man dressed in 70’s fashion. His brown eyes twinkled. His smile was warm and welcoming. Pointing to the picture, she told me it was her son.  I turned over the picture to find words scribbled on the back- “Husband. (man’s name.) Married 67 years. Three children (children’s names.)”  The program director broke the silence with a little light-hearted humor and reminded the aging woman that the picture was not of her son but of her husband. A funny statement was made and everyone laughed.

There was great care and respect in the interaction between the director and the woman. A familiarity and trust in the way they looked at each other and spoke. The elderly woman smiled warmly at me and gave me a silent nod.  I handed her back her treasured photograph and smiled back with a lump in my throat. Sixty-seven years with a man, three children later, and a whole life lived and the details were blurred and hard to recall.

old photos

I wasn’t supposed to be there. Through a series of unplanned, God-orchestrated events, I was found myself filling in for my pastor husband at our church’s monthly non-denominational church service that we facilitate for the residents of the dementia and memory care home in our local community.  I had never been to the service before and my husband had given me a 5 minute orientation about how to get there, what to do when I got there, and then told me to come up with some short message to share. One other church member, Evie, would be leading the singing. She had never been there before either.

We were led through a maze of hallways and locked doors, and invited to enter a bright, warm room. There were about ten comfortable chairs placed alongside the walls. Four residents silently occupied four of them. One other resident, a friendly, animated man was seated in a wheel chair near the door. Fall decorations were hung from the ceiling and wooden crafts the residents had made were displayed along the walls. A big, bright window and large ,framed, New England foliage pictures added light and cheer to the small room.

Fall Leaves

A few introductions were made and large-print hymnals were passed around the room.  Evie announced the page number of the first hymn and started us through the first verse.  In between the familiar words and phrases, I glanced over at the residents singing. Their mouths moved at different times. Wrong words and phrases escaped their lips. With the exception of Evie’s voice, each song sounded off-key, off pitch, off melody, and sung with poor rhythm. BUT each song was sung with great enthusiasm and joy. The residents sang from their hearts with confidence and peace.

With great reverence they listened to and joined me as we recited Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer. We talked about Jesus and the greatest commandment to love God and love others. There seemed to be a trust and familiarity with the songs and the passages for the residents. It was a sacred place and moment. There was unity as we were connected together to a past of a rich tradition of faith held by all those who have gone before us.

With their worlds becoming blurry and details slipping away daily, these timeless truths woven beautifully into hymns and passages, have been locked and stored in the hearts and souls to serve as anchors of hope and comfort.

When everything is gone and has been stripped away, the thing that truly matters remains… love and Jesus. 

I have been thinking a lot about this and what is going to matter when I get to the end of my earthly journey. What legacy will I leave? The hours spent worrying about things out of my control. Petty arguments and disagreement with others. Guilt, shame, bad decisions, and fretting over dumb stuff.  Things that seem so important now, when they are stripped away what will remain? Certainly, not earthly comforts or physical strength.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  Matthew 24:35

My visit with these sweet, elderly people did more for me than I could ever do for them. Before I left, I took each one of their velvety smooth, wrinkled hands in mine and I looked them in their eyes as if I could see deep into their souls. I hoped with every part of me that they felt loved and filled with comfort and peace.  In the short time I spent with them they helped me put things in perspective. They set me on a path to continue to think about what is important in my life and how I am spending this precious time I have on Earth. But most importantly, they were a testimony to me of the kind of things I should be setting my eyes on and storing in my heart and soul for a future that one day will come.

It is Well With My Soul by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, (it is well), with my soul, (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.


Unexpected Treasure

Treasure

“MOMMMM, LOOK!!!”  My daughter was standing knee deep in foamy, ocean surf holding up something small, white, and round. I moved closer to get a better look. She could barely contain her excitement. In the palm of her hand was a perfect, whole sand dollar!

“How did you find THAT?” I stared in complete disbelief. We were surrounded by the rhythm of the ocean. Waves crashed at our legs.  Rocks, pieces of shells tumbled in and out, over and around our feet by the undertow.  Our legs were encompassed by a bubbling blanket of foam making it almost impossible to see the ocean floor.  Enthusiastically, my daughter explained that she had caught a glimpse of something being swayed back and forth by the waves. Even though the thick foam made it really hard to see, she had tried to keep her eye on it. A few times, she had tried to grab it but it was pulled away from her. One last time, she reached down and pulled out what she thought was a random shell, but to her surprise it was a sand dollar. A perfect, whole sand dollar!

Treasure

After a minute or so of joyful acknowledgement, the treasure was given to me for safe keeping.  My excited daughter bounced away to resume jumping through the waves with her sister.  I tuned in to the peaceful rhythm of the waves.  Shifting my gaze downwards, I caught a glimpse of something in the water. In and out it went, tumbling through the waves. I did my best to keep my eye on it but a blanket of foam kept interrupting my view. A few times, I tried to reach for it, coming up with only a rock or a handful of sand. Still, there was something there.  I reached down again.  This time my hand locked on to something small and round. With excited anticipation, I slowly opened my hand to what I thought it held. There in the palm of MY hand, sat another perfect, whole sand dollar!  Holding MY treasure, I yelled over to my daughter, “LOOK!!! LOOK!!!I found one, I found one too!!!”

Treasure in Dollars

As fast as she could, with equal excitement for my treasure, my daughter pushed through the surf over to me.  I am not sure of the exact words that we spoke as we held our matching treasures. But within that conversation there was a moment when our excited, brown eyes locked and the world around us disappeared. And I knew, that moment and those two perfect, whole sand dollars were worth more than any treasure valued in dollar amounts. No price could be put on this moment!  I had done nothing to earn this but only had approached the day with hopeful, open eyes and faith that there was something great was to be found. These unexpected treasures were true, free gifts from God!

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Dear MOPS Leader,

I want you to know that I have been thinking of you and praying for you. I hope that your eyes are wide open with excitement and the anticipation of all the treasure God has prepared for you to find at MOPS this year. Like the rhythm of waves, I pray that you will find the right rhythm, between rest and work, for you and your group.  Some treasure will be right out in the open to see and some will take focus and perseverance to uncover.  Your treasure may come in many forms- MOPPETS workers, a well-needed hug, an old hobby or interest revitalized, a new mom that comes to your group broken and weary but leaves your meetings patched with love and with a renewed fierce strength to continue on her course.  I hope that you will lean into each other and show shared excitement for what each mom, woman, and leader in your group finds along the way.  And I hope that you will have faith and leave room for God to work in all the unknowns. Let him cover you and your group with a blanket of love and strength.  Through that blanket of love and strength, ask God to show you the glimpses of his good gifts. Keep your eyes focused on Him and His work, and be prepared to fiercely uncover and pull up treasure from all around you.

Love, Your Ministry Coach

Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”