What Are You Missing?

Field trip? Cancelled. Vision appointment? Cancelled. Jefferson Awards reception? Cancelled. Music festival? Cancelled. 

Since the day we were directed to shelter in place for COVID-19, I’ve been writing “cancelled” over every event that was scheduled in my calendar. It’s interesting that I haven’t erased these events, but instead I’m writing over them as if I want to keep track of all that I’m missing out on. As if seeing them under that glaring C word will help me to remember to reschedule all the things I was looking forward to. Or needed to do. It’s disheartening, for sure, even though I understand the reason behind it all and want to do my part to help keep each other safe.

What have you been missing out on?

This morning, I woke up to realize it is Palm Sunday. For the last two years, I’ve attended Palm Sunday services in a beautiful auditorium built of timber and glass, surrounded by tall, majestic redwood trees. The tranquility and beauty of the quiet mountain sounds, mixed with spring blossoms and birdsong…the music of the faint breeze dancing with the leaves…it’s a special place.

This place is called Mount Hermon, and it’s in the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s where the annual Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference is held each year, the week before Easter. Many who attend the conference are hoping to meet with agents, editors, and publishers…my first year there, I just wanted to learn how to be a better writer…where to begin with that. I had an idea for a book, but I was just in the brainstorming stages of it. I’d never been to a writers conference before, and it was a little bit like coming home.

The people were strangers to me, but they were so nice. And real. The sessions were inspiring and informative, and the setting felt like a retreat—even when my brain was on overload that first year. My favorite memories there are of meeting people at the fire pits or the dining room tables and hearing their stories…finding out what they write about and where they are from…discovering amazing things about each person and how courageous they are. How courageous we all are, just by being human.

One afternoon that year, I remember a time when I was sitting in the handsome lounge at Mount Hermon (where they have the best lavender latte ever). The stone fireplace reigned from it’s place at the main wall, like the throne of an ancient, wise king and the rustic, brown leather chair I sat in held me close while I was deep in thought. The sun was shining golden and bright…but all of a sudden I noticed that it had begun to rain.

As it the raindrops fell, the warm amber sunlight never dimmed from the sky and clouds never seemed to appear…although they must’ve been up there somehow, hiding above the pine treetops. I’d never experienced that before, sunshine and rain playing together at the same hour and, for some reason, that was some sort of clarifying moment for me.

That scene validated my being there…that even though when I arrived I didn’t have a clue how to move forward with my writing, I had found a good place to learn how to grow in it. I needn’t feel pressured to move quickly with my writing aspirations, but ultimately the goal would be to just keep moving on with it. Sunshine and rain does that for some people, I guess.

So now, here we are on Palm Sunday 2020 and I was supposed to be at Mount Hermon. The place I now look forward to being at each year more than just about any other. I was supposed to be reaquainting with writer friends from the last two years and making new ones. I was supposed to be hearing more amazing stories. I was supposed to be getting some valuable lessons and much-needed inspiration. I was supposed to be entering the auditorium in silence this morning and taking communion with a body of writers whose ultimate goal is to write for God and with God.

But instead, I found myself watching my local church services aired on YouTube while sitting on my couch dressed in my yoga pants. It was a good service, though, and there was a great take away.

Our pastor, Isaac Serrano, reminded us (while being careful not to downplay the seriousness of peoples’ health and finances) how important it is, especially in these turbulent times, to focus on God’s goodness. Things may seem dire here, but our biggest issue as humans is not our health and finances and boredom. Our biggest issue has always been sin.

Historically, this Friday marks the day that Jesus was crucified. The day that He died for us so that if we believe in Him we will go to heaven when we leave this earth. “That’s bigger than finances or health,” our pastor reminded us. We have legitimate concerns when it comes to people being sick and dying and losing their jobs, absolutely…but as believers we can rejoice in knowing that heaven awaits us someday.

So while I’m missing out on a lot of things these days— and today am especially missing the joy of Mount Hermon—I am sincerely glad in knowing that I won’t be missing out on eventually meeting God in heaven. That is greater than anything else on my calendar.

Before I sign off, I learned a new song this morning that I’d like to share with you. It’s called “Rejoice”. I know in times like these that may sound odd…but it seems fitting after shifting my perspective today.

Whatever you are missing out on today, I hope you are able to hold on and hang in there. We will get through this. 🙂

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Struggling

This encourager needs some encouragement.

Keeping my mind preoccupied from the very shaky state that the world is in right now has been my priority today.

So I rearranged some space to create an office at home, since it will be a longer time than we hoped for. The creativity of that brought me some joy.

Overall, I’m content…but it’s mixed in with one part stress, one part frustration, and many parts sympathy. So when I do turn on the news, my heart hurts for others and my fear returns a bit. It’s a struggle, that.  I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. But I also wish I could just ignore the news.

But you know, it’s got to be expected. The down days.

Everyone has down days.

And that’s why I’ll continue to pray and remember to count on the sunrise. And Jesus.

Tomorrow will be a new day, with a new beginning, and another opportunity to keep our eyes fixed on what we can be thankful for.

Just wait and see.

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Checking In With You

Now more than ever the world needs encouragement.

Stocks have been plummeting. Schools are closing. Employees are working remotely if they can. Sports and other events are cancelled. Travel has been abandoned. Toilet paper rolls and loaves of bread have vanished from the shelves. Bottled water can be as hard to find as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The world is having quite the scare. At the heart of it all is the spread of the coronavirus.

I’m not going to give my opinion on any of the above. I’m no expert in economics, and I’m not a medical professional. But whether you are in a tailspin of desperation or one who is trying your best to stay positive, the fact is that it hurts. It’s hurting everyone in some way.

But I just want to check in with you for a minute and remind you that if you are worrying over this, remember that this will pass. We will be affected by it. Some people may even be forever changed by it…but think on this: The bible says “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind (II Timothy 1:7).”

I understand there are people who don’t believe in God or Jesus, but I do. And the bible is my owner’s manual on life. God commands us not to be afraid and to trust in Him, so I ‘m going to work on not being afraid. Trusting someone isn’t always easy, even when it comes to trusting our God and Savior, honestly. But we can surely try.

There have been stretches of time in my past when I have not been able to shake the fear…when I’ve sat in hotel rooms or airplanes and worried I may die. There have been seasons in my life when I’ve not been able to sleep because I feared I might have some horrible disease. I’ve watched parents and grandparents suffer with illness and have felt helpless because I couldn’t make things better for them.

Fear is a beast. And in this world crisis, I’m not going to let it win.

We have no control over some things. It is those things we need to let go of so that we can truly live. The things we do have control over we can be smart about and make good choices. In the meantime, we don’t need to allow fear to put us in a headlock where we find ourselves forgetting to be kind to others. Wrestle with the fear and win. Or better yet, don’t even give it the satisfaction of showing up to the fight. We’ve got this.

Be wise. Be courageous. Be kind.

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“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? -Matthew 6:25-27

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Joy Win

I’m doing laundry today. You know…my favorite thing. Just kidding! While my hands are busy, my mind has been engaged in a gentle spin of a thousand thoughts.

Despite a list of challenges I’ve encountered in the last month or two, this morning I woke up feeling energized and excited for the week ahead. Such a gift— a new dawn, a new day…and I was feeling good. Then, as I went to make my coffee and start the first load of clothes, the memories of those recent hardships tried to cancel out all those positive thoughts.

Thankfully, some kind advice from a friend earlier this week came to mind—the reminder to “take it all in stride”. Being able to accept and tackle difficulties well is truly a life skill, and one I have been able to accomplish more and more. But it takes practice. Instead of dwelling on all the negatives, I instead chose to shake off all those things weighing on my mind and trust in whatever the outcomes may be.

And just like that, joy wins.

Throughout my life as far back I can remember I’ve had my fair share of trials, as well as accomplishments. We all have. We all face obstacles that can feel annoying or insurmountable. They can threaten our joy. But we all have a list of things we can be proud of (and if you think you don’t, I challenge you to make a list of wins in your life to remind you of your awesomeness). It’s important to recall the good stuff.

In this last half of my life (because a few weeks ago the doctor declared I was middle-aged), I am never more thankful than now for the fact that God can see through to our hearts. He knows when we feel overwhelm…He knows what we can handle, and He will give us what we need to persevere. He is available to us through prayer, and His word will equip us through even the hardest of times.

We have that access to Him all because of Jesus and what He sacrificed for us. We are loved—YOU are loved—THAT much. The creator of the universe is our constant companion. We are not alone in our trials, and the love of God–the joy He offers–will carry us through, if we just seek it out.

So hold your head high, my friend. Follow the loving path of the One who loved you first. Remember your strengths and focus on that. You don’t need to dwell on the past…and you don’t need to fear the future. It is waiting for you with joyful anticipation, because with God by your side you can handle anything.

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“…Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” -James 1:2-3

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16

 

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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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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