Crushed By Gentleness

In a harsh world, where everybody is hyper-focused on their hustle, there are those of us who need the gentle space…a cavern of affectionate calmness. The need to be wrapped in rock-solid arms of comfort. The desire to be so still you can hear the heartbeat of the one who holds you.

We, who fear of not being good enough, who work so hard not to be underestimated but still believe we never seem to come up to par, just need to be completely crushed by the gentleness of arms that will hold us up until the tide of self-doubt and fear recede. When the waves rush over us, the busyness, the overwhelm, when we are barely breathing…we need the solace and the sympathy….we need a savior’s rescue.

It could be a vice we turn to, sometimes friends and loved ones answer the call…or it could be Jesus. I want to choose Jesus. The One who rescues every time. The One who is a refuge. He is waiting, and all I have to do is call on Him. He cares not if I am the best or the strongest or the one who has all the answers. He cares not if I am thick or thin, impulsive or cautious, ready or not. He just loves me so…and he loves you, too.

 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. -Matthew 11:29

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Achieve Your Dream: 10 Things To Help You Along the Way

What dream is on your heart? What do you hope to achieve? Do you wish to accomplish something that seems so big—so outside the box—but you just don’t know where to start? I know the feeling!

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about 10 things we can do in order to help slay that goal of ours, whatever it may be:

#1) Acknowledge it—Know your goal. What is it? Write it down. Make a list of things you will need to do in order to accomplish your goal.

#2) Declare it— Tell people! Speak it out loud. This might seem scary, but it will challenge you in amazing ways you never imagined. Be brave and ask for help if you need it.

#3) Embrace it—Willingly and enthusiastically come to terms with the fact that it’s likely going to take a good amount of effort and patience to get to where you want to be. You will learn so much on this journey you’ll be on!

#4) Keep things in motion—Set small deadlines for yourself along the way. This is so helpful! Whenever I stop setting dates to accomplish the tasks I need to complete to reach my goal, I usually get distracted, uninspired, and off-track. In addition to deadlines, keep things moving along by learning more about where you’re headed. Find podcasts, websites, and read books about the topics related to your dream.

#5) Let it rest if you need to—Grit is a good thing, but sometimes we need to take a breather and be okay with releasing a goal if it’s just not turning out the way you hoped. Learn to listen to your heart…and if you feel pulled in a different direction, then go for that instead. You’re allowed to change your mind. 🙂

#6) Give yourself grace—If you encounter a mishap, make a mistake, have a set back, or stop working towards your goal, don’t beat yourself up about it—just get right back up again and get back to it if it’s still something you dream of achieving. We are too hard on ourselves. You’re still cool!

#7) Be yourself—It’s likely there are many other people in the world with the same goal in mind as you. That’s okay. Don’t let that stop you. What you’re doing comes from you and there is no one exactly like you. 🙂

#8) Be proud—I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a little shy when it comes to my dreams. Sometimes I wonder if they are silly or outrageous. I’m not working on my goals in order to make money, but think on this whenever you get that uncomfortable feeling that your idea is goofy or even maybe unworthy: Beanie Babies, Chia Pets, Snuggies, and Slinkys. Yep, those people made millions.

#9) Find encouragers—This is one of my favorites. There are people out there who are ready to root for you. Find them! Make a list of who is in your corner and refer to it in those times when doubt might set in or when you feel like you’re going at it alone. It’s such a powerful thing to realize that you are not alone and that many, many people want the best for you and want to see you succeed.

#10) Pray about it—Above all, pray about your dream. Is it something you feel God is leading you to do? Does it keep you up at night? Does it keep coming back to you even when you think you might not be equipped or qualified to accomplish it? Does it feel right, even though you might be scared to try? Pray for wisdom. Pray that He will help you discern the things which He has put upon your heart rather than the things others might be pushing you to do. Pray for courage and strength. You’ve got this!

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Praying with Jane–A Book Review

Have you ever put off reading something because you felt like you were just too busy?

I was gifted with a treasure of a book which turned out to be the very thing I needed to calm down my busy-ness!

When Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen by Rachel Dodge arrived at my door, I was preoccupied in a flurry of this and that. It took me awhile to make the time to start it. After getting through my days filled with activity, I would glance longingly at the beautiful cover where it sat on my nightstand before closing my eyes and giving in to much-needed sleep.

On one particularly stressful day, feeling as if I could barely take a breath for all the demands of life weighing me down, I finally picked up Praying with Jane. That day, I felt especially far away from God…I felt lost. I felt overwhelmed. I kind of felt wretched. I remember hoping that maybe this book I’d been wanting to read would give me the respite I needed.

It did. I wished I had started it sooner, actually, because it provided a sense of calm and soul perspective that I’d neglected for quite awhile. Small, yet profound, after just a few of the short daily readings, I found myself able to breathe more deeply, more fully…and, most importantly, reconnect with my priorities in regards to my faith in Jesus, my Savior.

I love the gentleness of this book. Each day’s reading takes about 5 minutes or less to read, and through Rachel’s writing I was able to connect with the prayers of a woman who lived so long ago. Even now in the 21st century, I could relate to Jane’s prayers and, more importantly, I was reminded of areas in my life in which I wanted to grow or nurture.

I’m somewhat of a free bird when it comes to reading devotionals, picking them up here and there when I feel the need. Sometimes I like to think on a thing for several days. I loved going back to this book, and looked forward to each new piece. Each time I picked up Praying with Jane it seemed as though the topic of the day (or rather, the section of Jane Austen’s prayer Rachel was addressing) was fitting for me in that moment. Has that ever happened to you? It’s a stunning feeling.

My favorite parts of the book were the interactive prayers at the end of each day (“Let Us Pray”). There are times in my life when I want to pray to God, but cannot find the words, and these beautiful, humbling, and genuine prayers were very good at helping me along. In some cases, they also provided me with new insight on changing the way I pray.

I also, of course, learned much about Jane Austen, her life and times, and her family through Rachel’s expertise and easy way of weaving Jane’s history into relevant thoughts for today. I’ve only read a couple of books by Jane Austen. I’ve probably seen more film adaptations, actually.

While not previously knowing much about Austen, I am thankful for this book’s tender challenge to my heart in regard to my own three decades old relationship with Christ. The benevolent call to obedience—the soft whisper to open my eyes to my own sins, however big or small they may seem—the undeniable proof of God’s love for me, no matter how many wrong turns I’ve made along the road of life. That He “knows our hearts fully, even more than a close friend or family member.”

Praying with Jane would be a wonderful gift, even for those who may not be super fans of Austen. I also think new Christians (or even those who aren’t Christians) would gain a lot of biblical insight and knowledge through the many bible references sprinkled throughout each day’s read.

One of my favorite prayers for the reader written by Rachel from Praying with Jane is this:

“Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness and your strength. Please show me the areas of my heart, temper, and habits that you want to refine. As the psalmist prayed, please “set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).  I confess to you now my negative thoughts regarding: [your specific confession]. Make my heart clean and new again. I turn to you now for refreshment and revival. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” -Psalm 51:10

What a wonderful way to start a new year, with the promise of renewal and refinement.  I’m so glad I took the few minutes out of many of my days to breathe in these integral reminders which are rooted in great faith and love.  I will be rereading it again in the new year.

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Patient Urgency

A child learning in her own time. A pair of friends rebuilding trust in a relationship that is precariously on the edge. Weight loss. Waiting and working through a long, painful recovery. Writing a book.

Those are some of the things which develop a patient urgency. You want the outcome to happen now. But the reality is that accomplishing it will take months, years, or even decades. It’s not the same kind of patience it takes to stand in a long snail-like line at the DMV or sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You can daydream your way through those situations…no real work involved. You get to go home at the end of the day. No vulnerability needed, no real exertion.

Experiencing a patient urgency, however, is dealing with the kind of patience we find ourselves facing when we are not really waiting, but working toward something for the long haul. Putting in effort and grit. Falling and getting up again. Messing up and seeking restitution. Denying yourself what you really want because you know it´s the better choice. Knowing you’ll write 100,000 tangled words that will need to be cut down by half—and even then, you won’t have reached clarity until you’ve quadrupled your mental elbow grease.

You may even find yourself victim to procrastination because a mean little corner of your mind has convinced you that you’ll never reach your goal. Yet, you feel the pressing need to wrestle with obtaining that goal anyway because you just. have. to. Or else…or else you’ll always wonder or regret. Because the need in your heart and soul to do this thing is so eager to get there that you will put in the time and sweat and courage to make it possible. Just thinking about it exhausts you. But you go on.

Some people thrive on the mere thought of the journey. They mentally put themselves on the podium of success before the outcome is even close to being achieved. They envision greatness. They expect it.

Others find themselves battling self-criticism, self-doubt, and insecurity…which unfortunately causes the journey to be so much longer for them, so they face the threat of never reaching their destination. What those two kinds of people share, though, is that magnetic pull to accomplish something important.

The thing about those goals which require a patient urgency is that you can’t really see the end yet. It takes faith to continue on. Faith. Perseverance. Confidence. Inner strength.

It’s an urgency that pounds on the door of your heart each morning and won’t turn away if you don’t answer. A patience in believing you’ll get there if you just keep going. A delicate trust that the God who led you to this call will show up every day and walk through it with you, guiding you and giving you wisdom, comfort, and grace. He is the One who planted the seed.

It is up to you to make sure you either ¨bloom where you´re planted¨, or transplant yourself to where you need to be in order to grow and thrive.

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Ponderings

Write with me, Lord. Be my words. 

This was my prayer as I walked down the shadowed hall after a long day of work, a mountain of things to do gradually falling off my shoulders with every step toward the keyboard.

Be my words.

It is my prayer every time I write. And today I think again and again on the question “WHY do I write?“. Why do I come here, week after week, to tell a story…or to try to remind us both of God’s goodness and grace?

It’s part selfishness, part love.

The selfish aspect is that it comforts me to leave a legacy of some kind. At this web address will always be found a piece of me. In the chaos of everyday life, when the bell or the time clock or the agenda of the day drags us away from discussions of the heart and steals from us the breath of what really matters, I like knowing that I can come here so the person who needs it can read something that may make them smile…or think…or remember.

But the love part, the greater part, is having the space and place to freely speak of Jesus and how He loves you and me. The idea that maybe–just maybe–someone may see the positive side of a dreary situation and make the decision to see the light instead of being focused on the darkness: By sharing the victories in my life which have followed the battles I’ve encountered. Or simply noticing the beauty of the world around us amidst the clamoring debates and arguments and nastiness of the world.

I fear I’m not doing it right. I fear that I come here week after week trying in vain to be the encourager I set out to be and fail. My heart is so full of hope for others to find the salvation that only Jesus has given. The gift of eternal life. Or to help someone reconsider their sadness. And here I am telling again instead of showing…at least in this post. When really, it’s apparently through stories in which people connect with.

This leads me to I worry that I am not a storyteller. I worry about sharing too much…too little. I resist the advice to weave my words in a way that captures attention, and so instead I write plainly from my heart. In doing so, I risk lack of acclaim, lack of “sharing”, lack of “likes”. But the very core of my soul knows that none of that matters. The number of “hits” has nothing to do with resting in the love of God who already loves me so…and who loves you so, as well. He longs only for us to acknowledge Him and know Him and spend time with Him….to share the story of Christ to all.

Because of this, because of my prayer that God write with me, I often forego the “rules” of the writer. I ignore the fact that the most “hits” my blog has ever had was about my dog. I could write post after post about my dog in order to gain more readers, but I it feels strange to do so. At least, for now. I feel like in doing so it will be me wanting to conform to the writer’s world in order to earn a buck. Or recognition…or popularity.

Isn’t it so hard to not compare ourselves with others and just realize that we, too, are amazing? Let’s not put numbers on ourselves….instead, let’s leave the numbers to God, whose thoughts of each of us are so many that were we to count them they would be “more in number than the sand” (Psalm 139:17-18). Isn’t that where the true substance lies?

All I want to do is be here, and share words on a page inspired by the God who created us, who meets us here—you and me–in order to nudge us to think and reflect on life, love, and laughter. My God doesn’t want fancy words or perfection…He just wants me, as I am. And so, I show up and see what happens. Thank you for joining me on my journey of figuring out how to encourage. I’m still learning as I go.

Write with me, Lord. Be my words. Please. 

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Belated

Belated. Those who know me best know that I am, and have been, belated with many things in my life.

The short list:

Remembering to send birthday gifts on time.

Getting dinner on the table.

Filling the gas tank.

Recognizing my purpose in life…(still puzzling that one out).

There are so many other events and circumstances, big and small, that I have been late for. Each time, I learn that some things do indeed let others down. This leaves me feeling guilty, and challenges me to try harder to be punctual.  There are some things, though, which have come to me belatedly and have been worth the wait. One of my best belated outcomes has been meeting my husband…another is my sweet friendship that has blossomed with my mother.

My mom is one of those gifts in my life that I don’t want to take for granted. Especially because she has been experiencing chronic pain since October when, honestly, we nearly lost her. Today, eight months later, I can still recall the medical team rushing her out of the ER in order to perform a procedure necessary to ultimately save her life.

Sitting alone in the darkness of the hospital room that had been hers, the missing bed leaving a gaping stretch of littered linoleum across from me, I was left to wait. Quietly, I curled my forty-year-old legs into the hard chair like a child, and hung down my head to finally cry. After more than forty-eight hours of being her advocate, along with my step-dad, I had forced myself to stay strong. It was exhausting, but necessary. I was thankful for this moment of solitude, this opportunity to feel.

A pair of well-made shoes appeared in my view like a shy, gentle fawn. I wouldn’t be surprised if my silent crocodile tears splashed a few times on top of them before I raised my head to look into kind eyes. It was one of the doctors who had been looking after my mom while she was there. In his eyes, I spotted the clash of his own uncertainty and hope mirroring mine as he valiantly tried to reassure me.

“Don’t cry. She’s going to be okay.”

And she was. But not without dealing with a long recovery, and still experiencing pain ever since.

When I think of my history with my mom, it wasn’t all rainbows and daffodils. Like many mothers and daughters, we had arguments when I was younger that would shake the shingles of the roof. Disagreements which left us giving each other the cold shoulder for days. Words that wounded and would be imprinted on our hearts for years. Our relationship was not always easy, and I’m sure I was not an easy child to deal with. I could be stubborn. Entitled. Moody. Like Fern in Charlotte’s Web, my sense of injustice ran high…sometimes unreasonably so. I really didn’t know what the future held for us.

It wouldn’t be until I became a teacher and saw the realities of parenthood all around me that I would understand what I had taken for granted all of my youth. I finally began to understand how much stress she must have endured being a single mother for so long, raising a child while at the same time earning a college degree (and a Masters), and then later working full-time. It took so much tenacity and hard work to accomplish that. She has the heart of a warrior, the most generous soul, and a gentle spirit I am now coming to know more and more as I call her not only “mom”, but also “friend”.

As a social worker, she has dedicated her life to serving those in need and providing them with resources. I am proud of her for helping children find adoptive families and placing them in their new homes. I am in awe that she directed the setting up a shelter for women who suffer from domestic violence. I am touched by the involvement she had in coordinating the reuse of old wedding gowns and having them turned into tiny burial gowns for infants who pass away while in the hospital. I am thankful for her foresight in arranging for my grandfather’s hand print to be put on pillows for the members of our family to have to remember him by. She demonstrates the kind of selflessness that I aspire to have someday, too.

These days, my my mornings are made complete with her daily funny meme or motivational text…an occasional weekend FaceTime, or monthly halfway-between-our-respective-towns lunch meetups. Even though she is going through pain of her own, she’ll text me encouragement when I need it…like a few weeks ago when I was overwhelmed and she reminded me to “count backwards from 3” and then turn my negative thoughts to positive thoughts. Or last week when I was feeling super tired and having trouble pushing through the morning, and she urged me to “Decide you’re going to have a terrific Tuesday.”

Then there was the time I shared with her my current favorite blog, Adventures of Toby, where Toby’s new sidekick is a blind dog named Amos. She perused it for a bit, and then optimistically texted back, “How sad [for Amos], but he doesn’t let anything keep him down!” I think I must have inherited my perseverance from my mother.

Not everyone has a friendship with their mom. Maybe for some, their memories are what they hold on to now. For others, perhaps they were mistreated or are estranged. Life is not easy. We all have our rough patches. Whatever your circumstances, know that you are loved beyond measure by the One who knew you from before you were here. God is our first and ultimate parent. In Psalm 139:13, David reminds us of the Lord’s hand in our life’s first whisper of existence when he says, “For You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

And so, even though Mother’s Day has come and gone for the year, and even though we had a nice lunch on that holiday and were able to be together, I honor my mom here. Better belated than never. Image result for heart clip art

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Sing Anyway

Some people sing so beautifully that it causes others to stop in their tracks with wonder. I’m not one of those people. There were clues along the way. For example, I vaguely recall my little brothers asking me to stop singing in the car during weekends at Dad’s. At the time, I thought optimistically that it was because the radio took precedence. However, things started to become clear when I joined the college choir as a rookie, eager to raise my voice in song with others because it just felt so good to sing.

On the first day, when it came time for introductions and to share with each other what part we sing, I said to the group that I didn’t know. Soprano, alto? I had no idea.

“I have no idea”, the choir director teased in a Minnie Mouse voice in front of the small class. We all laughed.

My feelings weren’t hurt, but some of the curious looks I got when we all started singing were hints that I was out of my element.  After that experience, I decided to hide my voice in the ginormous choir at my church on special occasions, like Father’s Day. I just wanted to sing, and maybe this would be a better opportunity to sing where no one would notice. Well, maybe no one noticed, but I struggled. My throat fought against the imaginary boa constrictor which had taken up residence around my neck. Now I was just overthinking it.

So I thought perhaps the best thing to do if I was going to seriously try to improve was take a voice class. Oh, that was painful. My vocal stylings were akin to nails on a chalkboard as I stood alone in front of my classmates, knees shaking, trying to make something beautiful out of something obviously broken…their glances creeping towards the mid-century modern windows as if looking for an escape from my interesting performance of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s The Willow Song gone wrong.

When I got married, my husband gently confirmed my suspicions without even saying a word. I started to notice he’d stealthily do pretty much anything to avoid my singing. On days I just couldn’t help myself and start to belt out tunes in the kitchen while doing dishes, I noticed the volume would go up significantly on the TV in the next room. At first he dropped those kind of subtle hints, but now that I have accepted I am vocally challenged we laugh about it together and he literally just begs me to stop. Therefore, I sing even louder. In his face.

Part patriotic respect, part golden opportunity, my students and I sing a song every day after the flag salute. It’s the best moment of the day. We’re mostly off key, all of us, and as a musician who plays the bassoon and clarinet I could help them improve their singing (at least, I think I could) but I don’t. I don’t because they are happy and in love with singing and they don’t really care that they don’t sound perfect, so that is good enough for me. Plus we have to move on to the math lesson. I notice some days their little heads will swivel around with eyes wide as saucers when I really tank the “rockets red glare” part, but they’re so sweet that they don’t say a word about it. They don’t even laugh at me.

I really don’t understand it, my voice. It’s like I was born from a family of hummingbirds, meeping and chirping away, unable to get it just right. I played in bands and orchestras for almost twenty years, so how come I just can’t seem to sing beautifully? It’s a puzzle. And over time, I’ve finally decided this:

I can’t care.

I can’t care anymore if I don’t sing well, because usually it is God I am singing to. He listens. And God doesn’t make mistakes. For some reason, He made my voice my own curious little thing to the ears on earth. But to Him, I imagine He loves my voice. How could He not? He loves yours, too.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” And then it goes on to say in verse 17, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!”.

Marvelous and precious. That’s what we are to the Lord. I’d reckon our voices are not excluded in that. No matter what they sound like. He formed us just as we are. So, let’s come to Him in song just as we are. Wherever we are. His opinion is all that matters anyway. I’ve decided that, as Martina McBride’s song celebrates, I’ll just sing Anyway. (I love watching this video of a woman signing the lyrics of that Anyway song.)

Each of us has our own unique individual voice. Voices that are lovely to the One who designed them to be so. Let’s be unabashed with our outpouring of joy. Let’s allow ourselves comfort in sorrow with song, if that’s what suits us. It would be tragic to deny ourselves this thing just for the sake of worrying what others think.

So that’s why I’m just not going to mind anymore if no one likes my voice. It will take courage, yes. I’ll likely have to shut my eyes sometimes as I sing to block everyone out; I may have to take deep breaths to bolster my heart. But the feeling of singing, for me, is such a happy feeling and brings such solace that it’s worth the risk of being out of harmony with others. At least in this small thing.

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;

Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.”

-Psalm 98:4

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