Nuggets: How To Let it Go Over the Holidays

Who sat on your last nerve yesterday? What relative, family friend, crazy-Christmas shopper or road hog nearly sent you over the edge?

It’s easy to quickly lose our cool with those who frustrate us. It’s especially draining when we’re talking about ongoing discord. These relationships and situations are likely to come into painful proximity over the holidays. I’m not sure why, but God recently gave me a perspective check.

In the heat of the moment, our reactions to these people is fiery. It’s us against them; you against us; I’m right and you’re wrong. But regardless of who is “right” in any given circumstance, one of the best ways to defuse an argument and lower your blood pressure is to remember that the other person isn’t evil, they aren’t your true enemy and chances are they have good intentions. 

When you look at the word “wicked” throughout the book of Proverbs, you get a pretty good idea of what God considers a wicked person:

  • devises evil plans
  • runs to do evil
  • walks in darkness
  • conceals violence
  • his soul desires evil

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most of us don’t know anyone like this. At the very least, your spouse probably isn’t evil. Neither is your mother-in-law, sister or best friend’s boyfriend.

So, if they have good intentions as you do, if they are not really an evil person, maybe you can just let this one go?

The Simple Key to Relational Bliss

keys

I sometimes find it radically difficult to please my husband … and my friends, and my parents, and the dog (actually, he’s pretty easy), and those I work for and those I edit for and … myself.

Do you?

Ever feel like you’re a fragmented failure?

This complaint, or wise observation, is nothing new. Everyone has heard the adage, “You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

But let’s get real–we all still try–and we all find it exhausting. I wonder too, if those of us who call ourselves Christians try harder than others to keep everyone around us happy. After all, we are called to honor others above ourselves and told that whatever we do for the least of these we do for Christ. We are also told that they will know we are Christians by our love–right? So don’t we have to constantly strive to evidence that love to them?

And then I’m tired. And then I fail. And then, I don’t really want to try again tomorrow. How are we supposed to do this?

I have found the incredibly simple key to relational bliss. Are you ready? You’re not going to believe how simple this is–not easy, but simple.

Quit trying. 

That’s it. 

Quit trying to please everyone, prove your love to everyone, validate your Christianity to everyone. Just stop it. 

Galatians 1:10 says,

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

I think Paul is going beyond the idea of simply trying to impress people, but actually admonishing us to drop our social standards, to ignore the typical expectations of us in each of our relationships. Then, we use all that reclaimed energy to focus on pleasing only one person–God.

But what happens if I forsake all my efforts to show my husband how much I am committed or quit worrying what my kids think of me? What happens if I quit trying to be the best of faithful friends?

What happens? That’s when you get it. That’s when it fall falls into place.

You see, when we please God, the fruits of His Spirit begin to grow and ripen. Suddenly, just by sheer proximity to the Savior we become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful and self controlled. By focusing with laser intensity on pleasing the Savior who is our righteousness, we become the kind of people we need to be in each and every other relationship.

You can study more about this topic with me by grabbing a copy of my book: Beyond Belief: Jesus Saved You, Now What?

Seasons: Why You Might Be Overcommitted, Stressed Out and Irritable

There’s Beauty in Every Season

Somewhere, some-when, in the last several months, I’ve lost my “edge”. Suddenly, the blank page intimidates me again. I have nothing to say. Nothing seems original or worthy of the time and effort to put fingers on keys, nor does anything seem worthy of being read–it’s all been said before, right?

In fact, when I look back at the thousands of posts I’ve written–I’ve probably said it all before.

God’s Word is emphatically clear when it tells us that our tongues can get carried away. They can set an entire forest on fire! So, at what point does a writer say, “Enough?”

I’m wondering if that’s where God has me … I know many authors and writers take full lifetimes to express all God has laid on their hearts. But, I’ve turned a corner in my own vocation, finding greater joy and ease in reading others’ work than crafting my own. So that’s where I’ve been–reading, refining and relishing the work of other writers who call on the One True God. What a joy it is!

We’ve talked about seasons here before. I truly believe one of the hardest things in life is letting go of a lovely season. Think of autumn, always seemingly the shortest season of all. A few crisp days and then suddenly, they bleed into frigid temps and good reasons to stay cozy indoors. Or, summer clings to its very limits, refusing to release those long, hot days to the reprieve of fall.

In life, think of the things God’s given you to do that you absolutely loved! You found your niche–others could tell, too. For a time, you were successful, happy, predictable, comfortable and then … something interrupted your flow. Suddenly, you found yourself starting over, asking God, “What do you want me to do?” At the very least, you found yourself doing something you never expected.

I think that’s why I love the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon says over and over, “There is a season for … “. The interesting thing about seasons though, is one can’t begin until the other ends.

Maybe that’s how we find ourselves overcommitted, stressed out and irritable–we’ve launched into a new season with out telling the last one “goodbye”. 

What season do you find yourself in? Is one fading and another dawning? Are you afraid to say goodbye?

Even as He quiets my mind, heart and fingers, God still speaks. So, for the next season, I hope to share the little things He’s teaching me–the daily wonders, the calls to thankfulness, the stern rebukes, the steadfast love. These posts may be shorter, concise or questioning and even less than profound. But I hope you’ll enjoy this next season with me. After all, there’s beauty in every season.

Shame’s Sneaky Relatives

Shame: “The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another:”

That’s what dictionary.com says shame is. And, being the lover of words that I am, I knew that. So, I really didn’t think I had a shame problem. But that was before I knew that Shame has a half-sister and two evil step-daughters.

I first met False Humility, Shame’s sneaky half-sister when I was a young teenager. I’ve always been average—not excellent or super smart. I’m not super athletic, super talented or super funny. I’m just plain-jane average. Cast beneath the spotlight of my brilliant younger sister, I quickly discounted anything positive about myself. She was everything I was and more; everything I did she could do better.

When we were kids, I quit playing softball and became the bat-girl for her team. I quit learning piano and quit the swim team because she did those things better, too. I played the martyr at home, always the one to give in, defer or tap-out.

It kind of looked like humility when I stepped aside and applauded her successes while mumbling something like, “I’m okay, just not awesome.”

Next, I was introduced to Shame’s step-daughter, Pride. She raised her ugly head in the middle of my battle with anorexia. For fourteen years I excelled at starving. No one wanted to compete with me, but I competed with everyone. In my malnourished mind, I “won” every time I was thinner than another girl, every time I turned down food that another person simply couldn’t resist, every time I went for a long run in the rain while others pulled the sheets over their heads and enjoyed the warmth of a cozy bed. I was an excellent anorexic. All the while, shameful thoughts about my body and personal value swam circles in my mind.

Fear arrived shortly after my recovery from anorexia as I began to share my testimony for the glory of God and the encouragement of others. Fear is Shame’s other step-daughter. When I wrote my book, got a publisher and saw it appear on Amazon, Fear started to mock me. No one is going to buy or read this book. You are going to let down your agent, publisher and family. Everyone has had such high expectations of you and believed you could do this—they are going to be so disappointed. 

I felt sluggish and demoralized for several days, muddling through the successive concussions of fear following the publication of my book. But fear forced to me look to the God who loves me, because “perfect love casts out fear.”

One morning, I opened my Bible to Psalm 25. This single chapter has a lot to say about shame in the life of a Christ-follower. As I read, hope and renewed energy flooded through me. Shame has no place in my life and no power over me.

“I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed…no one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame…O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.”

Good Intentions Don’t Count

I am doing a Bible study about intentional living. So I wasn’t expecting a verse about marriage to pop off the page. But then I shouldn’t be surprised, God is always intentional about getting our attention so that He can make us more like Jesus.

“Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

Don’t see anything about marriage in that verse? That’s because you’re not reading it with the intention of seeing God’s plan for your marriage. It’s there.

The Bible also says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Don’t you imagine in that our unions would be much improved if we governed them with wisdom? If we related to our spouse with wisdom and in the fear of the Lord, don’t you think we could avoid many of the pointless arguments, cold shoulders and the silent treatment? Where does this heart of wisdom come from? How do we cultivate a fear of the Lord in our homes and in our relationships?

We gain a heart of wisdom when we learn to number our days. The phrase, “Teach us to number our days”, has a much stronger meaning in the original Hebrew. It means to: Consider, be skillful in, reckon, prepare for and appoint with intention the temporal, brief mornings and evenings of life. (That’s just my lengthy amplified paraphrase.)

Often, I don’t think we approach our marriages intentionally. The expectation is for love and fuzzy feelings to buoy the relationship through the hard times. But when things get really gritty, there’s no deep-seated recourse, no Biblically founded intention to hold the marriage together.

There’s a catchy little phrase that has spawned many a movie. “Live each day as if it were your last.”

That saying is a modern assertion of the truth of Psalm 90:12. Even unbelievers know that acceptance of our brevity brings freedom, genuine love and a correcting of priorities. How many stories are told of someone diagnosed with cancer who suddenly determines to reconcile with a long-estranged sibling? How many times have we heard of someone learning they have months to live and suddenly choosing to work less, spend more time with family and begin seeking God? There’s no denying that numbering our days produces wisdom and ignites intention in our hearts.

So what if we could harness this knowledge of our few and temporal mornings and evenings so that we might have this wisdom now for our marriages and other relationships?

In American vernacular there’s a big difference between having good intentions and living intentionally. I go to bed each night with good intentions to speak kindly to my husband tomorrow and pray for him. I have good intentions when I plan to make his favorite dinner tomorrow or remember to ask about that meeting he had yesterday. Good intentions are my plans to go to the gym and eat more vegetables.

But living my marriage intentionally requires that I apply some elbow grease to those intentions. If I don’t do the hard work to make good on those intentions, then that is all they remain—good intentions, and I must plan again to live intentionally.

Marriage is one of those few relationships that we commemorate every year. Save for the embarrassed hubby that forgot several times, most couples know exactly how many years, and could calculate how many days, they’ve been married. We number those days. Therefore, we’re halfway toward a heart of wisdom.

Next time strife or bitterness raises its head or that gulf slowly widens between you and your spouse, stop and count the days. They are few. Psalm 90 goes on to say that we have 70, maybe 80 years if we’re lucky.

We are finite creatures. All our miseries and complaints are so small and short-lived compared to the eternal glory purchased for us by Christ. The first step toward governing our marriages with wisdom is to recognize how fleeting they are. Next, we must intentionally order, prepare for and appoint our days.

It’s so easy in the heat of the moment, to assume that this crisis of miscommunication or hurt will ruin our lives, make or break our relationship. It can’t destroy us if we don’t let it. When we number our days, view them in the true light of their brevity, it’s much easier to take a step back and intentionally form our response or reaction to every situation.

So, do the math. Number your days. Let that practice form within you a heart of wisdom, the beginning of the fear of the Lord. And then intentionally, with more than good intentions, conduct your marriage with wisdom.

All Things New, Life After Death

I’d given up on that phone call years ago. Subconsciously, I just knew it wasn’t a good idea. I’d ruined my body for having my own babies, why would anyone else trust me with theirs?

But last week, a sister called me. My second sister isn’t much of a talker, so I knew something must have prompted the call. “What’s up?”

“Well, nothing is wrong, don’t worry. In fact, it’s not that big of a deal. Well, it’s a big deal, but…”.

“Now I’m really curious,” I urged her on with a laugh. What on earth could tie her tongue and yet still be so important as to warrant a phone call in the middle of her daughters’ bath time?

“My husband and I have been talking and praying about it. We would like you and Patrick to consider being the ones to take the girls if something were to ever happen to both of us.”

She paused. My heart hit the floor and took wings all at the same time. Giddiness washed over me. Me? They chose me—my husband and me?

Not so many years ago, I would have been a terrible choice to take care of my nieces if something happened to their parents. In the throes of a longterm battle with anorexia, it wasn’t a stretch to wonder if I might not live to see them reach high school. I let my mind follow that line of thinking.

Not so many years ago, my sister and her husband might have feared that living with me would warp their girls’ body image. They might wonder if I’d feed them well, tend to their precious bodies or teach them how to fully embrace all of life outside the numbers by which society measures happiness. Or they might have been concerned that I wasn’t mentally present enough to assume responsibility for their little girls. What if I fell asleep at the wheel driving to gymnastics? What if I was re-admitted to a treatment center—what would happen to the girls then?

My sister still waited on the phone; slowly my mind resurfaced and collected itself. I tried to control the waver in my voice and suggest following the proper protocol. “Of course, I’ll talk to Patrick and we’ll pray about it. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. But I have to ask one question—why did you pick us?

My sister and her husband have done a remarkable job instilling the love of Jesus in the hearts of their little girls. A passion for Christ at the center of all things is the desire of their hearts, the defining trait they want for the home where their children mature.

“We think that you guys embody the way that we want the girls to grow up. We want them to know Jesus as a Person, not simply grow up in a religious home. We want them to feel His presence and learn to walk with Him.” (Not a precise quote, I wasn’t recording my sister.)

Not so many years ago, the mention of my name conjured worries, memories of treatment centers, confusion, deception and fear. I identified myself as anorexic. The dominant thoughts of my wakeful hours, and often even my dreams, were calories, food and exercise. But now…

Oh the joy, the sheer magnificence of a healing God! He healed me and allows me to experience abundant life, unhindered joy, Christ-filling. He redeemed the years, redeemed my reputation, redeemed my identity.

To be known as one whose mind, heart and home is consumed with Christ, is a greater honor than I can explain. To know that the old is so far gone, so far has He removed my sin from me, and the new has come—there are no sufficient words.

Of course, you’re likely wondering if I ever consulted my husband, who would share the responsibility of raising our nieces and what he said. He said, “Yes!”

Please don’t be put off or allow this to be seen as a morbid story, considering the loss of my sister and her husband. Rather, I believe her call, their question was meant first and foremost as God’s testimony to me, of me, that He makes all things new.

 

From Riches to Reliance

This is a guest post supplied by my precious sister, Kelsey Gunderson. Any questions will be directed to her and she will reply as quickly as possible.

Kelsey Gunderson is a wife and mother of two living in the Dallas, Texas area. Hesitant to consider herself a writer, she shares from a vulnerable place of obedience to the God who loves and leads her.

Budgets. Whether spreadsheets, cash envelopes, budget programs, or monthly allowance methods, we all try to obtain (or say we do) some kind of budget—some kind of organization for the few dollars that pass through our hands that supply our families with everything from toilet paper to tools, from groceries to gifts. But what happens when you don’t have enough income to budget, when budgeting no longer makes sense? When you don’t have the extra 5% to put into an emergency fund, or 10% into savings, or when you don’t have enough to purchase the bonus-size box of diapers even though it really is a better deal? Well, that’s is exactly where my husband and I have found ourselves the last 16 months.

The change was abrupt, which by no means was an accident. When God wants your attention you can be sure He knows how to rock your world and bring you to your knees in an instant. My husband had been gainfully employed by the same company for 4 years and had already been able to obtain a promotion that most thought was out of his league. The pay was great, the hours were good, and our little family of 3 ticked right along quite self sufficiently. Which, on a side note, I believe is the where the problem started. God doesn’t intend for us to live out our lives “self sufficient” with little reliance on him. He wants us to not only need Him but to want Him as well. In March of 2013 we had a huge wake-up when my husband, through a sequence of unfortunate events, lost his job. If that wasn’t enough to get our attention God also decided to expand our family. One month to the day of him losing his job, I found out I was pregnant with our second little miracle. By “miracle” I mean just that, I had been told on multiple occasions that a second baby wasn’t in our future, but nothing is impossible with our God. He will go to great measures to bring His children to him.

With my husband looking for a new job that would support our family and allow me to stay home with our not only one child but second that was rapidly headed to her debut, the walls seem to slowly start closing in. Fear and anxiety seem to be the only emotions I knew. I had never had to face financial instability quite like this before and at first it was down right terrifying. The smile covering up the panic wasn’t going to cover for long, but God will never give us more that we can handle and He always provides (1 Corinthians 10:13). It is’t until we reach a complete state of instability and uncertainty that we truly began to see God’s active hand in our lives. Over the course of the next several months, we saw God’s hand in so many undeniable ways, anonymous gifts, HSA contributions that shouldn’t have been, mortgage refunds, guilt free/unprompted family assistance, and tax reimbursements that came just in time.

My husband was able to land a local contracting job several weeks after being let go from his job. The contracting job was an answer to our prayers, but was hardly the end our journey. Contracting jobs by nature are flakey (at best) providing a paycheck but nothing more and very little promise of continued employment. So the search continued, and still continues to this day. We have had our hopes rise with phone calls, interviews and follow-ups only to drop with a rejection, job “fall-throughs”, and no callbacks. We’ve seen financial stability on the horizon only to have a storm blow in.

I’m not going to lie and say that it’s easy to trust God when what you need is something real and tangible and it feels like God is anything but tangible; however, I can tell you that this last year has been a year that I would never change. God has brought me to my knees worldly speaking but at the same time has picked me up and placed me in His lap. I have never felt that peace and confidence in Christ that I have felt this past year. Handing over finances to God is one the hardest, yet most rewarding, things we have ever done.

The past year plus has been hard, financially wearing, mentally exhausting and emotionally taxing. It has stretched our finances, our marriage, and our trust, but I wouldn’t change any of it. The thrill of seeing God at work and knowing it’s for the best out weighs everything. I even said at one point that even though I long so much for financial stability again I have also learned to love the instability because it allows me to see the active hand of God. As I look back on the past 16 months and remember the up and downs, the tight weeks and financial gifts that made things possible I realize that this whole situation never was about money or employment, it was about trusting God to provide. Every tight week feels worse than the last, but ever gift is sweeter. I have learned through these gifts that it’s not a coincidence or an obligation on someone else to help us; it’s the hand of God at work. Working through someone else to make sure he provides for his children. I often thought back to the Israelites and their escape from Egypt and how many times they doubted that God would provide, how each situation felt worse than the last, and how they missed out on beauty of trusting God. I don’t want miss out! Even this very day I look at our bank account and wonder how we will make it to the next paycheck and if I will be able to buy diapers before we run out; the problem may still there, but the fear is slowly diminishing. Fear is being replaced by fascination; the fascination of what God will do next.

 

Welcome to Clarksville!

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Hello Lovlies!

Welcome to Clarksville! It’s my plan to be more spontaneous with our posts again here very soon, now that life is settling into its new, “normal”.

As I peeled my heart away from Columbus, GA and the friends I’ve made there and reacquainted with, the hobbies I’ve begun, my chair at church, the park that I frequented on sunny days and the one more conducive to rainy ones–as I gently wiggled my heart like a well-stuck sticker and tried to loosen it’s adhesive, I realized something. I mean no offense to friends, but I think I grieved the loss of routine more than anything. Does that make sense?

Of course, that routine included dear ones. I am sad for the end of weekly coffee visits with Johanna, for true-southern hospitality at Nanny and Katherine’s house. I am sad for Tuesday/Thursday visits on regular floors at TMC–for smiles with Mailey, Shanna, Nancy, Barbara, Megan, Penny, Daisy, Alex and Amy and others.

But here’s what I’m learning:

God has recently been speaking to me of exposure. My favorite therapist of all time (how many people can say that?) once told me that recovery would become easier with time, that walking in freedom would become my “new normal”. Stacy explained, “When water flows down one side of a hill over and over it creates a channel and nothing will divert it, unless the water is forced down the other side of the hill enough times. Then, it will create a deeper, more compelling channel on the other side. Over time, the water will naturally flow down that opposite side.”

Stacy was right about recovery. Today, healthy feels normal and right to me. But her lesson applies to so many other aspects of life, too.

The day after we arrived in Clarksville, Brave and I ventured to the Upland Trail, their version of a riverwalk. My heart sank. The trail is less than two miles long. Our home is lovely, but it’s situated in a neighborhood with no safe places to walk the dog. There’s more traffic than I expected, no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or farmer’s market.

When our furniture didn’t arrive as early as I hoped, I felt my mood slipping and along with it a half dozen tears down my grimy cheeks. (Did I mention that it’s every bit as humid as Georgia? That leads to grimy cheeks quickly!)

Quietly, my Father started speaking to me about exposure. 

Lord, what can that possibly have to do with me, here, now and this achy sense of loss. I have no routine here, no way to plan or expect what happens next. I have no friends to call for coffee or familiar parks to stroll. What does exposure have to do with it?

One week later, from Thursday, May 29 to Thursday, June 5, I understand. You see, in one week I’ve been exposed to spectacular Tennessee thunder storms, friendly neighbors, a new state park with a few miles of trails that emulate a rain forest. I’ve been exposed to new patterns of streets and today found my way home without the GPS. I’ve been exposed to “camping” with my husband for (too many) nights and the welcome hug of a comfy bed again. I’ve been exposed to
wide—–open—spaces that remind me of Oklahoma–ranches, farms and fields of wildflowers between every building, bridge or street. I’ve been exposed to new accents and a different version of southern hospitality. I’ve been exposed to a new side of the hill.

The course of my life has been redirected. In only seven days I’ve begun to wallow out a different bed for my stream. My life is bubbling over new stones, around mysterious curves and tumbling down unexpected bluffs.

Are you getting this?

Exposure is what makes normal. Exposure is what makes familiar and acceptable and good. How does a child know that the neighbor’s mom can’t make chocolate chip cookies? Because they don’t taste “right” like the ones that Grandma makes.

So, I’m discovering our new town, our new home and forming new habits. They will feel deliciously comfortable and right, until it’s time to move again. Then, with a gentle nudge, God will redirect the course of my life again, expose me to what only He foresees and I’ll fall in love all over again.