Hope Says…

I know hope.

Hope says, “Give me that challenge…I’m not afraid.”

Hope says, “I’ll persevere, and I’m not going to give up.”

Hope says, “I may fail today, but I’ll show up again.”

Hope says, “You can’t catch me…wait—maybe you can.”

Hope says, “Let me take your breath away.”

I know hope, and hope knows me.

We’re inseparable.

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An Image of Frustration

A man is shaking his fist at the indigo sky.  The horizontal lines gripping his forehead cram together as if it’s stuck in a trash compactor. The tight corners of his mouth dive down deep to meet his jawline. Tears pool and threaten to sprint past his hollow cheeks, dripping onto his shirt…his eyes are hauntingly desperate, his brow defeated with sweat.

But I see his strength in the bottom lip that quivers, like a table about to buckle because it’s been loaded with too much weight. As he struggles to yield to the hope which still exists within him, he breathes deeply and closes his eyes.  This torrent too shall pass.

For all those who are frustrated today, hang in there. Breathe. Pray. Choose to shake it off and focus on something that will make you smile. Or even better, something that will maybe make you laugh. Look for it.

The Lord says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9

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Be Relentless

This old dog can learn new tricks. I know that’s been said before, but it’s very relevant for me right now. And if you’re reading this, you also may be in the pursuit of something big that you really want.

I mention dogs because, well, I have this dog…and she’s been driving me crazy. To the point where I’m embarassed. You see, I’ve been learning that it’s probably MY behavior that has caused her to be so naughty. Well, let me just take that in for a minute. Yikes.

Here I am, a forty-one-almost-forty-two-year-old educator being told by professionals in the dog training industry that I need to learn how to be a leader in order to have a well-behaved dog. A leader. That might not sound like a big deal to you, but to me? I want to go hide! I’m a teacher! I AM a leader….but apparently, I have some work to do.

I remember a year ago saying, “I want to write, but I don’t want to write about my DOG!”. As if writing about dogs wasn’t a respectable topic for authors. But you know, they also say dog is man’s best friend. Having an amazing dog prior to this current one, I can surely declare that is truth. At least for me. And I don’t take best friends lightly. So maybe there is something important about writing about dogs, after all. I still don’t want to write about ’em.

Well, in any case, the good Lord is certainly putting me in my place teaching me some perspective when it comes to what I’m learning through this dog that is making me want to scream. And tear my hair out. And giving me permanent scars. Seriously.

That God-sent perspective is this: In order to make this animal mind, I am going to have to be relentless. RE-LENT-LESS. And I LOVE how I am learning this through our 11-month-old fur baby, because let me tell you…I’ve been believing I am relentless, but this whole puppy experience is teaching me that I have just been kidding myself.

This lesson bleeds through so many other areas of my life, and I think that is why I am feeling uneasy about it being called to attention. My bluff has been laid out onto the table. My game is over.

It’s time to play my hand a little differently. A little more…alpha-like. 🙂

If I don’t want my life to be run by this couch-ripping, wrist-gnawing, tornado-fleeing dog, then I’m going to have to be more persistent than I usually am. I’m going to have to be more consistent than I am used to being. I am going to have to raise. the. bar. when it comes to my expectations.

And ohhhhh doesn’t that remind me of my writing habits??? Yup.

And, yikes—in the classroom, doesn’t that make me think of the class line that I let get loosey-goosey or the handwriting that I let slack? Mmm-hmm.

The people who know me very well know that I am very hard on myself. And they may tell me that is the case here.

But I want more.

I want to accomplish things with my writing, to help others through it.

I want my students to learn good habits and make outstanding growth…even more than before.

And I want my wild dog to behave so that we can enjoy her and, in turn, she can enjoy us.

So the task at hand is to be constant and unceasing in this pursuit at dog training, in teaching, and in writing. To not give up so I can hold my head up high and say, truly, I am a leader.

The reward will be so much greater than any kind of regret.

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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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The Crime of Perfectionism

Me? A perfectionist? No way. 

That was how I used to think. Until about a year ago, I’d never really investigated the word perfectionism. In my mind, that word was reserved for people who were already perfect and, well, I surely was not. Inside or out.

Yeah, I actually believed perfection was attainable.

Then, one day while browsing the aisles with my latte, I picked up a book at Barnes and Noble for the title alone. You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth. While most of the title words were black, the word “already” was printed in bold red, as if it were saying, “Yeah, that’s right, you see me correctly. I’m saying you, yes YOU, are ALREADY amazing. Dare me to prove it to you.” Intrigued and downright hopeful, I bought it, took it home, and snuck it into the bathroom where I escaped into the first few chapters during a long, warm bath.

I was being sneaky about it because it was embarrassing to THINK myself amazing, let alone showcase to anyone who saw the book cover that I might also agree that I was. I did not want to be labeled as conceited. Yikes!

Inside that book, I met “Ms. P” (a.k.a Perfectionism) in Chapter 3, and I saw myself in her description. All or nothing. Never good enough. Every failed attempt hammering yet another nail into the coffin of “Unworthy”, rather than seeing those failures as growth experiments which honorably coexist with “Worthy”. When I read this poem by Gerth, it finally dawned on me that I had been a perfectionist all along. Here, take a peek:

Why You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

by Holley Gerth

I know Perfectionism.

She calls my name and says,

“You will never be good enough.”

And sometimes I listen.

I cower in a corner.

Or I endlessly run.

But it’s always about fear.

Then these words stop me in my tracks,

grab me by the heart,

and invite grace to speak instead:

Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)

I don’t have to be perfect.

I only need to be perfectly loved.

And I am.

So are you. 

A reminder from 1 John—a truth—that we are loved by God. And that is what matters more than trying to do everything perfectly. In fact, that love sets us free.

Well, after that, for a good while I threw “You are amazing” around all over the place, like great splashes out of a giant fountain of love. Sticky notes on my mirror and in my car, posts on Facebook, on little chalkboards in my classroom, texts to family and friends…all little dashes of truth to everyone (and myself) who might need it. Reminding them that they are amazing just the way they are…and me, too. Because many of us get all caught up in what we think we ought to be or who we think others want us to be. Trying to please everybody from here to there and everywhere.

But forget that. We all fall short, and that’s just the way that it is. Of course, we still strive to do our best, but we must keep in our sights the reality that mistakes happen and it’s okay. We also can’t spend every hour making the perfect this and the perfect that. We must make room for balance. And we will go through seasons when we run low on patience, compassion, and friendliness. In light of that, I find myself humbled by the reminder that God extends grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those whom He loves…for I will need it all continually.

One of the areas of my life where perfectionism still seizes me greatly is in my writing. I want to write. I lovvvvvve to write. I want to either help or entertain others through writing (I don’t know which yet)…but I struggle. I have daily battles with thoughts of “no one will want to read that”, or “no way should you share that”, or “you’ll never be able to tackle an actual book, because you don’t know what you’re doing”. Perfectionism tells me “you don’t know enough” and “you’re not qualified to write that”.

Yacks! No wonder I haven’t returned to the book that’s on my heart. I’ve let that way of thinking rob me of more than six months of action. I put my book in a drawer after finishing the first draft and have. not. touched. it. since.

Recently, however, I was reminded to safeguard my good intentions by shaking off those threatening thoughts. I saw a shared post on the Higher Purpose Writers Facebook page of a quick little “perfectionism reality check” written by professor and author, Brené Brown. As I read it, I got to a part that literally stole my breath: “it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.” So true.

Something in me ignited and caused me to comment on that post. A realization was born. “Perfectionism,” I typed with certainty, “is the culprit that puts up the imaginary black and yellow caution tape around my writing desk, cordoning me off from my creativity…leaving me too often with regret. We can’t let perfectionism rob us of our joy, so we have to fight back by taking action. One of my second graders often tells the kids very matter-of-factly, ‘when you’re feeling nervous, just do it scared’. Oh, how I wish I’d had that wisdom at age 8.”

(Even now, I have doubts because I’m not sure writers typically quote themselves as I just did, but…whatever! LOL)

Then I offered this quote because it always sets me back on track:

“Ditch the self-defeating tunes in your head and upgrade to life-giving thoughts.” -Trish Blackwell

It’s time, isn’t it? To shake off those thoughts that imprison our dreams. To stop sabotaging ourselves with our unreasonable expectations. The ones that kidnap the joy and satisfaction of accomplishing great big things. Or even great small things.

So…go do your thing. That thing you’ve been putting off. Just take the step and get it done. Baby steps, giant leaps…anything that gets you closer to your dreams. Someone will want to read this. Yes way, should I share this. You and I may not know what we’re doing or know it all, but the world’s got resources out there—we can figure it out. We are qualified to speak what’s on our hearts because we have been enrolled in Life 101 this whole time. And remember, God is with you…He wants us to live abundantly so that we can, in turn, be a light for others.

You’ve got this. We’ve got this! Let’s do this.

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P.S. Please remind me now and then. 🙂

 

With You

It’s been a trying couple of weeks. A migraine. Back pain. Self doubt. Fear. I stand in the kitchen as I write this today, unable to sit. Still hurting as I stand. And I wonder about all the people out there who suffer from chronic pain. I marvel at how they continue on in dignified silence, likely suffering much more greatly than I am, when all I want to do is shout from the rooftops that I need some relief.

Jesus is in the boat. 

A few weeks ago, while my friend Summer and I were having lunch, she mentioned a little something about the message she’d heard at church the weekend before. She said the pastor was talking about anxiety, and one of the things that stuck with her was his reminder to the congregation that, “Jesus is in the boat.”

Five little words that can offer so much comfort and relief.  Five little words. I wonder if she even knows how greatly that swift conversation has impacted me. That small phrase has provided me with peace and strength during the peak moments of unrest in this tough season.

“Jesus is in the boat” is referencing an event in the bible, in the book of Matthew. In Matthew 8:23-27, it says:

“23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

I don’t know about you, but there certainly have been times when I felt like I might be drowning. Overwhelmed. Unsure. Anxious. Suffering. And many don’t just suffer with physical pain, but with mental illness or family or relationship struggles. Jesus did warn us that life is life and there will be trouble in it. But He did not leave us to battle it alone. (John 16:33)

Jesus is in the boat.

Recently, I repeated that simple, yet powerfully comforting sentence to myself as the inside of my head pulsed against my skull behind my right temple in the middle of a dark, sleepless night. With each heartbeat, I feared it might eventually burst as it intensified. Have you ever had a headache that robbed your very breath? It’s kind of terrifying.

Jesus is in the boat. 

I said the soothing words again after work the other day as I tried to fold my body into my car, my spine unyielding, the muscles like concrete. And then again, minutes later, when I surrendered to the tears of frustration after finally shutting the car door.  Will this ridiculously inconvenient back pain ever go away? Is it arthritis and I’ll have it forever?

Jesus is in the boat.

It floated around in my brain as I listened to the latest update of the fragile health of a dear family member…so many things unknown. If only I could make it better. If only I knew just what to do or say. If only, if only…

Jesus. Is. In. The. Boat.

There is something about that visual…the image of Jesus in this metaphorical boat (otherwise known as my life) which comforts me in a way that little else has. With a prayer, I know He is listening, but when I also imagine this boat scene it becomes more tangible somehow.

It’s a tender proximity, a nearness that wraps me up close. It’s like the time I went deep sea fishing with my step-dad and grandpa, even though I was secretly scared to venture out so far that land would inevitably disappear from my sight. But their presence, just having them with me, made it bearable, comforting, and even became an enjoyable memory.

When I think of Jesus in my boat, so to speak, I imagine He and I together in a small, sturdy boat…the tumultuous waves crashing around us. Cocooned among wide planks of fine-crafted wood below, and the cool air which sustains life blowing past us above. Close enough for tears to be wiped from my face…close enough to look into the eye of my Savior and see His kindness and strength.

His calm.

I don’t like to complain. But I often hear myself complaining. I don’t like to worry. But I hear myself voicing questions of doubt. I don’t like to feel afraid. But the fact is, there are times when I am.  And how can we not be? We are human after all. There will be times when our weaknesses are displayed and our imperfections magnified. That is okay! Yet, if we believe, we have the privilege to have a relationship with Jesus, who tells us that He is with us always. We are not alone. (John 14:15-31)

Remembering that Jesus is in the boat fills me with renewed resolve and determination, and at the very least it’s a reminder that He’s got this handled even when I feel I don’t. He’s not only in the boat, but He has the power to calm the storm that surrounds it. And the more I can remember that, the more I will cling to it so that my hope and faith and trust will grow.

Oh, and as I finish this up, there goes my 5-month-old puppy confiscating the egg shells that I put into the trash after cooking breakfast this morning. Slimy egg whites and little brown shards all over the kitchen floor. She’s running around like a wild thing while trying to ingest her favorite of all things: fluffy, white paper towel. *sigh* Silly girl.

Gotta go.

My friends…Jesus is in the boat. 

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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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