We Need the Encouragers

So many people are quietly desperate for the behind-the-scenes cheerleaders, the roar at the finish line, the pats on the back, or the thoughtful notes replenishing the soul with uplifting words.

We need our encouragers. They get us through the tough times, and they celebrate with us in the good times.

An encourager helps us to remember our voice when we think we’ve lost it.

An encourager cheers us back to believing in ourselves after we’ve made so many mistakes.

They see our potential when we’ve lost sight of our own strengths.

They give us gentle feedback to help us to improve.

Or, they rev up our soul with words of affirmation.

Encouragers inspire.

They challenge us with reminders of hope. They teach us to dare.

They matter. They make a difference. They are catalysts of greatness.

Even the encouragers need to be encouraged.

Where would the world be without the encouragers?

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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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Forgiveness

Do you forgive others swiftly? Is it easy for you? For me, it depends on the situation. In my head, I know Jesus instructs us to be forgiving, but honestly sometimes my heart just isn’t willing to do it right away. If ever.

It takes courage to forgive someone.

It takes vulnerability.

It takes a heart full of grace.

For the most part, I’d say I am quick to forgive. If someone cuts me off on the road, I might find my temper flaring, but a few minutes later I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe they have to rush to the hospital,” I tell myself. “Maybe their wife is in labor!”

If someone I consider a friend doesn’t invite me to their party, I usually don’t fret long about it. “I’m sure there’s a good reason…maybe they just wanted to hang out with a different set of friends tonight.” And I go off and do my own thing, or join someone else.

But sometimes the wound is deep. Sometimes the protective bandage you wrap around your heart is wrapped so tight you’re afraid to let it unravel. So you keep it bound without letting go. “I’m just not ready,” your mind whispers to your heart when it calls on you to release the tight binding.

The problem is, when you don’t tend to a wound, it can fester and get ugly and become ten times worse than when it started. A heart can’t beat freely if it’s being squeezed with contempt.

About five years ago, someone close to me hurt my feelings badly. And even though many times I’ve read the verse below when Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone—and Jesus’s answer equates to 490 times— I’m still struggling with it to this day.

We’re so quick to point the finger. To declare we would never do such a thing or treat people in such a way. But if we take an honest glance at our past, not one of us has never hurt someone in some way. Maybe not physically, maybe not intentionally…but feelings get hurt…betrayals…the loss of a temper. Each one of us at some point in our life has had the need to be forgiven by somebody. We are human. It is going to happen. We cannot avoid it 100% no matter how faultless we aim to be.

I strive to be kind, but I know I’ve fallen short and I’ve been fortunate to experience the forgiveness of others in the past. I hope that grace has been extended to you with your mistakes, as well. And so, if a day comes when I expect forgiveness but don’t receive it, if I ask myself when that time comes, “Why won’t they forgive me?”…well, all I can do is look in the mirror and see a heart that is also battling to forgive.

Some injustices are horrifying, and some offenses are seemingly unforgivable. I often watch the news in disbelief at the atrocities of many conscienceless members of society. How could we possibly be called to forgive them?

In those moments, I try to remind myself that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to be okay with what they did. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go unpunished. It doesn’t give the green light to stay in an environment that is physically dangerous or emotionally hurtful.

It’s just that, by forgiving, we are to let go of the anger and resentment we feel towards that person. In large part, it’s an act of freeing the bitterness inside of you so that it doesn’t sour your soul.

In the bible, Jesus himself forgave those who were crucifying Him on the cross (Luke 23:34). Those who were driving the nails into his palms and ankles, those who bloodied His head with a crown of thorns…those who left him on a cross to suffer and die. If He could forgive them, surely I can work on forgiving those whom I need to also forgive.

Forgiveness.

Not easy, but not impossible.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” -Matthew 18:21

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Permission to Relax

It’s okay to rest today. To put your feet up and wrap your hands around a warm, steaming mug of coffee while you watch the clouds drift by outside the window.

It’s okay to escape today. Cuddle up with a soft, fuzzy blanket and escape to another place and time inside of a good book or a long anticipated movie.

It’s okay to put something off today. Save an item (or two) on your list of things to do and add a thing (or two) like a slow, easy walk while taking in the brisk, life-giving air around you.

It’s okay to rejuvenate today. Listen to some music that you loved when you were a young thing, back when you danced like crazy in your room…back when Saturdays and Sundays stretched so far and wide you would memorize whole albums in a day.

It’s okay to sleep today. Take the opportunity of a non-work day to sleep in a little…or nap a little…or make some chamomile tea or go find that lavendar sachet that will help you snooze a little. You’ve worked hard. Your body and mind deserve some rest.

It’s okay to play today. Grab a board game, make a fort with the kids, bake some cookies, or do some last-minute shopping with friends. Do something you love. Something that will lift your heart.

Stop that work that you’re doing. Look all around you and really see what is there. Listen. Take a break. Breathe. You won’t get this day back ever again, so take a little time to do what you love.

How will you enjoy this day?

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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. 🙂

 

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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Promise

Several years ago, I discovered a non-fiction book by one of America’s favorite fiction authors, Debbie Macomber. It was called Knit Together: Discover God’s Pattern for Your Life. I loved this book. I loved it so much that I lent it out to friends and cannot remember who I last gave it to. I think it may be time for me to get a new copy and read it once more.

One of the things that stood out to me in Knit Together was the idea Debbie shared of having one word that is her defining word for the upcoming new year. She shared that it was a tradition for her to choose a word that meant something to her, that would represent what she wanted to focus on throughout the whole year. For example, surrender or prayer. In fact, she later wrote another non-fiction book on the whole topic called One Perfect Word. The idea really appealed to me, so for the last several years I’ve also been choosing my word for the year.

Lately, I’ve seen it come up on Facebook. For example, over at (in)courage, they are sharing DaySpring’s quiz to help people find their own word for 2019 since a new year is just around the corner.

Each Thanksgiving, I begin thinking of my new word. It’s usually hard for me to decide. But the last few months have been rough for me spiritually and physically, and I neglected to even give 2019’s word much thought.

However, recently I’ve been reading a little book called Praying with Jane by Rachel Dodge…and then came Christmas. Between those two things, I’ve been deeply reminded of the sweet joy of Jesus in my life and how I never want to take that gift for granted. And with His gift, the ability to make each morning new…our sins forgiven, if we but ask. The opportunity for a cleansed and revived heart….the hope we have in waiting on the Lord. I was reminded that what I want most is for His love to shine through me, and not be hidden.

And so I thought to myself, what is the root of all my trouble right now? What is keeping my light from shining? And I realized it came down to broken promises. Broken promises to myself in many different ways which eventually affect those around me.

Here is one example: If I break the promise I’ve made to myself to show up to thirty minutes of exercise (or even ten minutes!)…but then I break that promise every day, it then snowballs into an unhealthy habit. I end up not only feeling icky, unfit, without energy, strength, and stamina, but it also eventually makes me feel bad about myself for continually breaking that promise (this was an intriguing notion I learned earlier in the year listening to podcaster and confidence coach Trish Blackwell). Then I feel grumpy and have back pain from a weak core, and we all know grumpiness does not really pair up with friendliness. It’s hard to appear kind when I’m cranky.

Another example of breaking my promise to myself is when I am not in God’s Word consistently, yet I have every intention to do so. When I say “I will make time for the Lord today”, but instead choose TV or social media. By doing so, I am not reminded of God’s promises….of His grace and love and forgiveness…of the trials of people in the Bible and how they overcame them, how God provided for them…of the blessings and goodness and just downright peace that comes with praying to Jesus…that’s the fuel for the fire that keeps my light burning brightly. Without that fuel, my joy is not as easy to see, my kindness not as forthcoming as it ought to be. I need the fuel. I need to keep that promise to myself to stay in His word.

Promise.

That’s my word. And it’s all to do with showing up. Even when I don’t feel ready.  Even when I don’t feel I’ve got the energy.

So…here are the three ways in which my word for the year, “promise”,  will relate to me in 2019:

#1) I promise to show up for my health and spiritual wellness when I say I will. Except when I’m sick, of course! Ugh! Just saying this, I know there will be times when I’ll hit the snooze button or convince myself to go to bed early or…or…okay, therefore….here’s to #2!

#2) I promise to give myself grace when I mess up. ‘Nuff said. LOL

#3) I promise to do one thing every day that scares me. This is from a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which I heard when I first began listening to Trish Blackwell’s podcasts. I’m not talking about skydiving (that won’t ever be on the list)…but instead I mean even the littlest things that get my heart jumping and tempt me to run in the opposite direction. Being an upstander. Showing up to my writing space. Overcoming my shyness to make someone feel welcome. Trying a new recipe (if you know my reputation for cooking, this will make sense!). Teaching in front of an observer. Making conversation at a party. That kind of stuff.

So, there it is. 🙂

What is YOUR word for 2019? When you know it, let me know in the comments below. And even better, share why it’s your word!

For another great example on how to choose your word of the year, listen to episode #298: How to Successfully Set Goals for the New Year on The Confidence Podcast with Trish Blackwell.  

Have fun pondering!

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