I’m a Kid Person

This morning was my first morning teaching kids at our church I taught once before a couple of Sundays ago, but we had combined our class with another class so it was a little different. This time it was all me…with five 1st-3rd graders.

The last time I had taught children had been 3 years ago, and before that I had been teaching them for nearly 8 years. So when we left that church to come to DBC, needless to say, I was completely burnt out. I had absolutely no desire to teach kids or help with kids in any capacity, and I told the preacher that the second Sunday I attended. He assured me that I would not be pressured to help with them. The only way I would help out was if I wanted to. I’m a bit ashamed to say that I really had no intentions of ever helping from that point forward. And I made that known to most if not all of my friends there.

Fast forward to about a year ago, Summer, 2017. God had been working on me and I had really been growing in my relationship with him. I started to have passing thoughts of helping with the children. I would quickly dismiss them when they would come though because “I’m not really a kid person“. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I do have a kid. But this would be other people’s kids, not mine, and I just didn’t really know what to do there. So that’s what I kept telling myself. “Kids are not my thing. Besides, I’ don’t even know them.” At our old church, I had practically grown up with most of the kids. Some I met when they were crawling and by the time I left they were entering middle school. Numerous births had occurred over the years. I had taught pretty much all ages at some point or another there, so I knew all of them. I was comfortable with them. It came naturally. But this? This was completely uncharted territory.

The thoughts began to grow stronger over the coming months, and I kept burying them. But it didn’t seem to matter how much I tried to “bury” the thoughts and by this time “slight” desires; I just couldn’t escape it. Slightly annoyed by all this, I remember saying to God one day, “God, I have nothing to offer here. I can’t teach them. I’m not good enough for this. There are plenty of people who are far better, far more gifted, far more energetic than me to do this.”

Immediately I thought of the apostle Paul. It is said in 2 Corinthians 12 that he was given a “thorn in his flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. Paul evidently saw this as a weakness, and he pleaded with the Lord 3 times for Him to take this “thorn” away. Instead, the Lord says this to him in verse 9:

“My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness”.

Teaching children was (is) a weakness for me. It’s not that I “wasn’t a kid person”, it was that a had a lot of fear and insecurities that I was wrestling with. Each time I brought them before God, He would give me the same answer. “Lord, I can’t do this. What if they don’t like me?” “My grace is sufficient.” “But God, I don’t even really know these kids. I mean I know a couple, but I don’t really know them and I doubt they know me.” “My grace is sufficient.” “But what if they ask me a question that I don’t know the answer to? Or worse, what if I accidentally give them a wrong answer?” “My grace is sufficient”. “But God, I don’t even know what age I would teach!” “My grace is sufficient.” “What if something happens? What if they aren’t paying attention, or start fighting, or just act unruly? I don’t discipline well. I don’t know how their parents would feel about that? What if I make a mistake or do something wrong? What if I make someone mad? What if I’m no good at this? What if I completely and utterly fail?” And for one more time, “My grace is sufficient.” I had my answer. It was clear I wasn’t getting out of this one.

Interestingly enough, around that very same time I was having a conversation about something totally different when our [mine and Brandon’s] community group leader said something that I really needed. “I am convinced of this, that whatever God calls you to do, He will sustain you in that, no matter what.” In other words, “His grace is sufficient“. He didn’t know about the internal struggle I was having. In fact, no one did. Because if they did, it would mean I would have to eat the words I had been speaking for 2 years by this time: I would not teach/help with the kids. And let’s be honest, that was a blow to my pride. But it didn’t matter, soon after I gave up fighting, making excuses, and being a slave to fear. I approached a good friend of mine and told her what I felt God leading me to do. “Are you sure? Why the change in heart?” So I told her everything, spoke with a few different people over the next couple of months, and long story short – here I am today, reflecting on my first morning with 5 children.

I don’t know how the kids felt. For them, it was probably just another Sunday. But for me, it was the beginning of a journey. As I sat in a circle with them, discussing our lesson, I can’t even put words to all I felt in my soul. I would look into each of their eyes as they were speaking and see them light up, see their warmth, and see some a little shy. And it was an instant love for them. Sure, there were distractions. You never really know what any of them will say next (“squirrels” are real y’all). One had marker all over her hands (of a different color that she didn’t even use I might add), while another almost got a ball taken a way (but this was handled quickly and guess what, he didn’t even get mad at me for making him put it in his pocket!). But it was absolutely perfect, natural, and life-giving. By the end it was completely clear to me that this is where I’m meant to be, at least for this season (who really knows what the future will be?).  And I can say with confidence that God’s grace really is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness.

So today, today I am a kid person. And I love it.

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Wandering

Ever feel like you’re wandering through a forest? You start walking through, taking in the sights and smells, breathing easy, feeling calm, but then something happens. You start to get tired of wandering. You’re ready to get to the destination. Except…you don’t exactly know where you’re trying to go…

It’s right about then that a friend comes by. They start to chat and you can see that they are energetic and glowing, meanwhile you feel tired and empty. They’re just in the forest for a quick visit, then they go on to reach their destinations. They’re loving life and are fulfilling their purposes, dreams, and passions. And while you’re incredibly happy for them and it brings you joy to see them living life like this, you can’t help but feel a sting of doubt about yourself. “What am I doing with my life?” you may ask yourself. You’re not jealous per say, but you want that, that feeling of being filled, that radiating joy that comes from living out your passion and fulfilling your purpose for being “here”.

So you keep walking…and wandering…and waiting…and praying…and hoping for something, anything from God to give you a sense of direction, a knowing that He hears you…and sees you…and still has a plan for you. Right in that moment when you need it most, He does give you something. Maybe it’s a song, or a passage of Scripture. Sometimes it’s hearing encouragement from a friend or a nugget of truth from a sermon. It can come in many different forms, but I believe these are the moments where God so lovingly and tenderly reaches down and reminds us that He’s always there, He is faithful, and He loves us.

That’s where I am right now. I can see Him working in this “wandering” season. I feel His preparation for something far greater than myself. I see the people around me living their dreams, in their desires that God placed in their hearts. And while it hurts just a little bit (okay, sometimes a “lot” of bit), I also know their stories. I know all of them have been where I once was, and they too played the “waiting game”. They had their fair share of wandering through the forest. And I have hope, hope that God will bring me though as well.

Here’s what usually happens to me in this season. First, I am reminded by God to hide His Word in my heart (Psalm 119:11). In the moments where I’m most discouraged I often find Scripture “pop up” in my head and I repeat it back to myself, soaking it up until I feel encouraged again to “press on”. Second, I am reminded of the Israelites in the desert. After they escaped from Egypt, God gave them exactly what they needed: day by day he provided enough manna for them to eat. They were to eat just enough for that day only. In my wandering, sometimes I sure wish I had more and was further along on this journey. But He gives me eyes to see and provides me with His Word as food to just make it though each day.

And so here I am, wandering on this journey in the forest, praying for peace and contentment, holding out hope that there is something greater than this wilderness, something greater than myself that God is preparing for me. I wish I could say I remain joyful always, that I’m never jealous and never desire anything else. But I still have those days, the emotional ones. Yet, the prayer of my heart remains: Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NASB).

Yesterday I was having one of those “emotional” mornings. I was driving down the road and, being that my phone was dead, I actually turned on the radio. Usually I listen to a playlist on my phone or on Pandora, so it’s been a while since I’ve listened to “real” radio. The first thing I heard was someone talking about how our testimony is everything. It leads into spreading the Gospel. It serves as encouragement to other believers. It builds the legacy we will leave. Then, the next 3 songs that came on were “Do It Again” by Elevation Worship, “The Way” by Housefires, and “Already There” by Casting Crowns. I sang with the radio in worship to God and let those words soak in my soul…

“I see You move, You move the mountains, and I believe, I’ll see You do it again. You made a way, when there was no way, and I believe, I’ll see You do it again.”

“‘Cause it’s a new horizon and I’m set on You, And You meet me here today with mercies that are new. All my fears and doubts, they can all come too, Because they can’t stay long when I’m here with You.”

“When I’m lost in the mystery, To You my future is a memory. Cause You’re already there, You’re already there. Standing at the end of my life, Waiting on the other side. And You’re already there, You’re already there.”
I needed all the lyrics of those 3 songs and God reminded me of 3 major things:
  • God has never and will never fail me. He is for me and He loves me (Romans 8:31).
  • God’s is faithful and His mercy for me renews every day (Lamentations 3:19-24).
  • While I can only see the page of my story that I am currently on, God wrote my book and has a story for my life far greater than I can see or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

And so I will wander for now, keeping my eyes on Him who is good, ever so good, all the time, even in my wanderings. Even in my lonely hour, through my emotional meltdowns, in my empty nights, and in my hurt, He is there. And He is faithful. And He loves me. I want this to be my testimony to others: that I remain in Him always and that I life life well, even in the wandering.

He loves you too dear one. Don’t give up. Remain steadfast. Press on.

*If you haven’t heard the songs mentioned above, you can check them out here:

Discipline

After a recent conversation with someone very special and close to my heart, I began reflecting upon my methods and beliefs about of parenting and discipline. I feel as though these subjects are largely avoided on social media, and that’s probably a good thing, but this morning I feel led to share with you my thoughts on the subject. Don’t worry – no specific parenting strategies or discipline methods or “tips and tricks” are shared, only some thoughts on the subject as a whole.

No one likes to be disciplined. Growing up I absolutely hated “getting in trouble” and so I typically just avoided anything that even might get me in trouble. I always thought parents had it so easy because there was no one to discipline them. Now that I am a parent, I realize it’s not so great on the other side either! Equally true to my first statement, no parent likes to discipline. It’s hard and it sometimes breaks your heart to have to discipline your child, especially when they’re so “little and cute”. But in return, the opposite – to not discipline – is far worse and the consequences for choosing this option ultimately brings destruction.

Someone once told me that the first 5 years are the hardest and that it is the foundation for the rest of your child’s life. How you discipline your child during this critical time sets the stage for how you will be disciplining them in the future, but I believe it also sets the stage for your future relationship with the child. It doesn’t mean you will never discipline your child again, but I believe it can make disciplining them better or worse depending on how you spent those first 5 years.

It’s interesting to watch your child grow and see the discipline process unfold in different stages. Your strategies and methods may grow and change a little, but I still believe consistency is key and your child needs that stability. I think about when I first began disciplining Autumn: it was all about teaching her to obey. She couldn’t talk to us that well, but we tried our best to show her love in that discipline. Then, she got a little older and we could start talking about how what she did was wrong. And she would apologize, sometimes out of habit and sometimes because she knew she did wrong. However, now, she is beginning to communicate why she disobeyed, and in return we are beginning to be able to communicate why what she did was wrong.

When thinking about this whole process, I couldn’t help but think of “the 5 W’s and How”. Let me explain:

  • Who: At the core of it all, who is your child? No one will know that better than God and the parents. I’m fully convinced that their little personalities begin in the womb and grow and develop over time, but even at such a small age there are key signs of their temperaments and personalities. Some may not believe it, but our daughter Autumn is an 8 on the Enneagram and has a Choleric temperament. She is strong-willed and stubborn, and you can literally see the delight in her eyes as she challenges you. While she does need the freedom to express her independence, she also needs very strict and consistent discipline. If you give her an inch she will take a mile! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love and adore my child. She knows this! And it’s because I love her so much that I take the time to intentionally discipline her. Take the time to observe and get to know your child so that you know which methods and strategies work for him/her.
  • What: Know what the motivation and goals are behind your discipline methods and know what you’re teaching your child in relation to that. If your goal is to have the child fear you, then that is going to show. Be aware of this! As a follower of Christ, my goal is to discipline as God disciplines me because He is the One I am to imitate. My ultimate goal is to be like God. So if you are following Him, your disciplining will reflect

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1 NASB)

  • When: There are many differences of opinion when it comes to when to begin disciplining your child. I personally believe there is a period after birth where you must first build up the relationship with your baby so that the baby knows that he/she is loved and secure. How long that period lasts is different for different children, but know that it does not last forever. At some point you will need to start disciplining and if you seek God’s wisdom, He will help you know when that time comes.
  • Where: As I’ve said before, consistency is key. The standard for discipline should be the same wherever you go. However, I believe most disciplining takes place in the home. That’s where your “Kingdom training” comes from. The first teachers your child will ever have are you as parents, and before ever going to daycare or school they live with you at home first. As a family, your home, wherever that may be, is the central unit for your family.
  • How: Finally, Ah, the “how” to parenting. There is an insurmountable amount of literature out there on how to parent your child. There are parenting books, magazines, blog posts, podcasts, internet articles, television talk shows, and the list goes on and on, that tell you how to discipline your child. Some contain truth, others are full of garbage. Again, I am not going to tell you how to parent your child. I don’t have a list of “10 Steps to Foolproof Discipline”. But what I do have is what every parent needs, and that is the Word of God. How you discipline should come from the teachings of God’s Word. If we seek Him, and obey Him, He will provide us with wisdom on how to discipline. He is faithful.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)

If you look back at the list you will see that I skipped a W, the “Why”.  Why do we discipline as parents? Why does it matter? Well, Scripture points to that time and time again. For one example:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Yet, the most simple answer I can give is become God disciplines us. Ouch. Yes, I said it. I’ll say it again. God disciplines us. We are His children. And as great as we like to think we are sometimes, we are not above His discipline.

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews12:7-11)

And why does God bother to even invest in disciplining us? I mean, I can be stubborn! I whine and complain against His discipline. Sometimes I may cry or get angry. Sometimes I want to deny it and make excuses. Huh, I’m starting to sound like my 3-year-old…Why does He still continue to discipline me? Well, why do I continue to discipline my daughter?

“For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12)

Because He loves me. And I love my child. And so I try my best to discipline her according to God’s Word, just as He disciplines me.

Remember how at the beginning of this post I told you no one likes discipline, neither the child nor the parent? Well, here’s what God’s Word has to say about that:

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1)

Yikes, God drops a #truthbomb! Showing discipline not only shows love for the child, but it shows a love for knowledge. To not discipline is to hate it, and with God there is no in-between. Either you love Him and follow Him, or you deny Him and hate Him. Those are your only 2 options. And if you don’t love His discipline, then you hate it and you won’t discipline your child, nor will you listen to the Lord’s discipline in your own life.

In closing, I can’t help but reflect: Do I love the Lord’s discipline, or have I hated it? Am I disciplining Autumn according to God’s Word? Does she know why I discipline her? Am I imitating God in the way I discipline her? Does she see Jesus through me? For this is my ultimate goal of parenthood: to model Jesus for her and to lead her to Jesus, so that we can both love God, and love people, and serve and glorify Him with our whole self, in all that we do.

Reality Check

I’m emotionally exhausted. I’m feeling all the feels. Part of me wants to Netflix binge and the other part just wants to spend the day in bed. I can’t blame in on depression and it’s not PMS. God is changing my heart, burdening it with things I’ve never even given much thought to before, and it’s uncomfortable.

I’ve spent many years in the “comfort zone” wanting a simple life with dreams I’ve had for nearly a decade. You know the Southern American dream – a cozy country farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with lots of land and a swimming pool. I didn’t want to be “rich”, just make a little more now so we could be the entertaining house, a place where people could come and socialize. We wanted to be “that house” – the one where the kids would always linger and play around. I’d decorate for the different seasons and would keep a warm and welcoming, clean home. Laughter would fill the air and children would play outside just doing what kids do. I would be “that mom” whose home was always open for play-dates, who’d whip up some homemade baked goods “in a jiffy”, and who would have extra towels on hand for the pools because no one ever remembers those.  We’d have last minute dinner parties, have small group in our home every week, and host other events for the church and community. I’d taxi Autumn around to extracurricular activities, take her to school and pick her up, and would always have goodies for the holidays at school, and I would never be one of those moms who constantly forgot to turn in the forms or send money for fundraisers.

As you can probably guess, “living the dream” didn’t last long. It turns out, I am “that mom” – the one who forgets things, who forgets to full out picture day forms, who forgets to pack a jacket, who basically is a mess. I constantly remind myself that my kid knows I love her and that’s the most important thing, but “mommy guilt” is real and constantly haunts me, telling me “I’m not enough” and that “I can do better”. I’m not crafty, it feels like our home is constantly a wreck instead of cozy, and we eat out way too much, so “homemade treats” are rare as is a nice home-cooked meal.

And then there’s the kid situation. I constantly get asked when we’re going to have another baby. As terrible as it sounds, I have zero desire to have another kid, and my husband feels the same way. I am not a kid person. I’ve never really been a kid person. I love mine, and it’s not that I don’t love others, but that is not my area of passion. It’s not something strong to my heart, and I know another kid isn’t what our family needs. If/when the time comes for us to have another, if God presses on my heart for us to have another child, I will joyfully submit. The “mommy guilt” is strong in this area too, and sure, I wonder if I’m failing and scarring Autumn leaving her as an only child. I always thought we would have a few kids. But that is not our situation, and another self-expectation I had for myself didn’t come true.

Autumn’s 3rd birthday was last weekend and I got a big reality check about this whole thing last week. I was scrambling at the last minute – go figure – to find cutesy stuff for her party. I had all these little DIY things I wanted to put together, and couldn’t find anything I needed in town. ANYTHING. Worst of all, I couldn’t even find a cake topper to match the theme of the party. Autumn has talked about this party for MONTHS and it was quickly turning into a disaster. I was stressed and defeated. My husband at one point said, “I don’t know why you keep trying so hard. You are not ‘that mom’, you are not [insert person who he thinks I’ve been trying to be like]. Autumn is going to love her party either way because all of her little friends and people she love will be there.” I quickly responded that I was not trying to be this person; I just wanted Autumn’s party to be special. And while it was true that I wasn’t trying to be any particular person, I was still trying to achieve the expectations I’ve had for myself for years.

In my husband’s words was truth. I needed to let go of the image I’ve had for myself. While I’ve come a long way in this area – I recognize I’m not going to be the ‘class mom’ or Betty Crocker – I still am holding on in a few areas and that has been keeping me from embracing the woman that I am – the woman God has created me to be, who is unique and beautiful, flaws and all.

So why all of these thoughts and feelings now? What difference does it all make? God has given me a burden, one that grows stronger and stronger every day. That burden is within an area of passion of mine that has been on my heart for years now. The difference with it is that this burden/passion is God-given, NOT self-given. See, when God gives you a desire, that desire lasts. It’s not fleeting and it’s not something that is unachievable. He gives you everything you need to achieve your desires, to find a solution for that burden, to move you into action.

Those above dreams were never really my dreams but were instead a product of my surroundings. Sure they were things I wanted and in some aspects I still do want those things. But they’re not my passion. I don’t get excited about them. It doesn’t light a fire in me that I just have to fulfill those things, and my heart doesn’t break when I consider not having those things. Those dreams were selfish, and they went along with me trying to make a name for myself.

God has already given me a name. He has great plans for me, and when I submit to Him and His plans, amazing things can happen – things I could never even imagine, or even think to ever ask Him for. When you open yourself up to Him, and submit yourself fully to Him, that’s when you truly begin to experience abundant life. Your old ways, your old dreams, your old expectations begin to slowly fade away and they get replaced with new dreams, new passions, new desires, and ultimately, new life.

As uncomfortable as it may be now, I would rather live this life, a life of purpose for God, than to live the “American dream” that I only thought I wanted. Leaving the comfortable for the unfamiliar, sacrificing all I have, to experience the adventure of a lifetime is worth it. Because our salvation was meant for oh so much more. Because I want to further God’s Kingdom on earth. Because if I can touch just one person with the Gospel and help lead them into a relationship with Christ, I’ll know I have done God’s work. Because if I can help one woman learn to study the Word for herself, my life was not lived in vain.  Because if bringing shelter to someone helps them to see Jesus is real and they commit their life to Him, Heaven will rejoice. All this, because Jesus is worth it.

So let the discomfort come. Let the tears roll as my heart longs for the people God leads me to serve. Let my heart become more and more open so that I can love others well. Let me show Jesus to everyone around me as I walk through this life. No matter the cost. Because Jesus, YOU are worth it.

2017 in Review

Oh 2017, you were a hard year. Very challenging, but also very rewarding.

I went into 2017 having received my word for the year from the Lord: “Move”. I knew this would be the year the Lord would begin to move me into a promise He gave me long ago, something I had been praying for 9 years. Just as Moses began preparing the Israelites to finally enter the promise land in Deuteronomy, He began prepping me to enter into a promise that would lead to a more abundant life.

I’m not going to lie, when I got this word, and as I began the year, I thought I was waiting on the other person to be ready, because surely from those 9 years of waiting I was ready for this.

Nope. Still me. I was the one who still needed to be changed.

So 2017 began. I turned another year older, as did Brandon and Autumn. Autumn had a Tinker Bell party surrounded by family and friends and perfect weather at the park. A few days later she got to meet Tinker Bell in person. God did the impossible for me: In February I finished my first ever half marathon in one of my most favor places – Disney World! God did this mighty work in my life and once again revealed His power and His night and His faithfulness.

I needed it because also at the beginning of 2017 began a rough season in my own life.

In the Spring Brandon got a promotion that fulfilled a dream of his: he became a K-9 deputy. He immediately loved it and we fell in love with Aries. We still have trouble getting Autumn to realize he’s not a pet. However she has him wrapped around her finger because when that sassy 2-year-old growls with all her might, “OFF LEGION” (I have no idea if I spelled that right), he listens and sits down to her.

But even though this was a great change, it was also a hard change. And a lot more work was brought along with this promotion. There were long hours, extra hours, and middle of the night calls. In the midst of this Autumn was having nightmares and wouldn’t sleep in her own bed. We still have trouble with this.

And my troubles continued growing stronger as the year went on. After 5 months enough was enough. I reached out for help and my journey of healing began.

In May we wrapped up our very first whole year of community groups. I don’t know that there is a better testimony of our marriage than being surrounded with these amazing couples in our group, along with our whole DBC family.

That summer I studied Philippians along with an amazing group of women that changed my life. Brandon was able to join the men’s Bible study over the summer too.

We spent a week in Ft. Myers in our very own timeshare for the first time, and the whole Smith crew got to be there. We celebrated Amanda’s 30th birthday and, come on, could there be a better place to celebrate?! We also had our first fever scare and had to take Autumn to the Urgent Care as her fever reached over 104 degrees.

I spent the entire year working at Georgia College, but changed departments in July. Our sweet Nephew turned one and we saw other precious babies be born and we wept along with others who had to experience their unborn babies leave to be with Jesus.

We began another round of community groups and experienced growth not just in numbers at DBC, but growth from within as we grew in unity with one another.

We welcomed Fall with arms wide open and for the first time in a very long time I began to feel more like myself. That “thing” I began praying for 9 years ago came true and I rejoiced.

We celebrated holidays, mostly in peace, without the stress and chaos that normally accompanies the season. Partly because of the sweet healing Jesus gave me. ALL because of His grace.

Perhaps my most favorite part of 2017, though, was the relationships. We made new friends, grew stronger with some, and even reconnected with others we hadn’t spoken to in a while. We found accountability partners, mentors, and sought refuge and peace in our community group. We bonded together with our DBC family. We gave thanks to the expansion of our own family. And we watched God work many miracles in the lives of numerous close friends. The greatest relationships all that I saw grow, though, is both of our relationships grow closer to Christ, and in turn, closer to each other, and closer to our precious daughter.

We still have a long way to go. We are far from perfect. But we are chosen in Christ. We are redeemed. We are adopted as children into His family. And we are learning to abide in Him, and walk in His grace, so that we can be His light unto the world.

Happy New Year everyone. 2018 – let’s do this!

Quiet

Quiet….what does that word even mean?

A few months ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. To me, quiet would have been escaping to be able to attain it, or waiting for the husband and baby to go to sleep. I longed for quiet, I tried to demand it, and I sought it with selfish motives. I thought having some “quiet” would make me happy, give me peace, but it didn’t. And the rare moments I did get some quiet, I didn’t enjoy them. I was too on edge, too overwhelmed, and too exhausted. In fact, those moments were anything but peaceful. Because:

PEACE, true peace, can only come from JESUS.

It doesn’t come from just escaping to a place of quiet or hiding in your closet with a bag of Reese Pieces (whoops). However, I do believe we have to get quiet before Jesus and come to Him for peace. We have to quiet our souls before Him, remove some of the distractions (no, sorry, that doesn’t include kicking your family out of the house every day; I’ve tried). But the great thing is that right there in the midst of chaos Jesus can bring you peace.

“Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm” (Matthew 8:26b NASB)

But back to quiet. The dictionary defines quiet as:

  • making no noise or sound, especially no disturbing sound
  • free, or comparatively free, from noise
  • silent
  • restrained in speech, manner, etc.; saying little
  • free from disturbance or tumult; tranquil; peaceful
  • being at rest
  • refraining or free from activity, especially busy or vigorous activity

If you know me at all, you know that “quiet” is NEVER a word I ever thought I would use to describe myself. In fact, I am the complete opposite of some of these. When I read this, it makes me think of the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10: 38-42). I used to get so mad when I would read this because clearly I was a “Martha” and didn’t think it was fair that she had to do all the work that Mary had stuck her with. I mean, come on! If she didn’t do it, then who would after all? Clearly, neither did Martha think this would be fair, because in verse 40 she says to Jesus, “Tell her to help me!” And His response?

“But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things;” (Luke 10:41 NASB)

Ouch. I have a sense that even though Martha was physically busy with the preparations, her mind was busy as well. “Distracted” is the word verse 40 uses. I don’t think it really mattered so much as what she was doing while she was busy (even if she did blame it on the “house work”), as much as it mattered that she was not doing the best thing at that moment.

I can just imagine the tender voice of Jesus beckoning her to Himself. “Mary, Mary”, He called. He was trying to get her attention. “You are worried and bothered about so many things.” How many times have I missed the voice of Jesus because I was too busy with distractions, whether they were physical or mental distractions?

but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

Necessary. Only one thing was necessary: Jesus. You missed it, Martha, just like I have for so many years. Time and time, month after month, year after year I missed the “one thing necessary”. I didn’t get it. I was worried and bothered, distracted, with so many things. I was unaware of how it was affecting me, of how it was affecting my family, and the others around me. And because I was unaware, I didn’t think this was a problem, so I did not seek help. Even many would speak into my life regarding these actions, my business, how distracted I was throughout the years, I was unaware. I could not hear them. And so the downward spiral continued until I decided I couldn’t take anymore and mentally hit rock bottom.

There, in the darkest point, Jesus spoke into my mess.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28 NASB)

The gentle words of my Savior spoke these words to me and I cried. I wept. But I was released from the chains, the yoke that I had given to myself. Jesus knew how much I needed these words and I began to cling to them and claim them as a promise of God.

Rest, freedom from noise, saying little, tranquil, peaceful: these are all words I think of when I read this verse. This is what Jesus is promising to bring: QUIET.

So Monday as I was driving to meet a friend for coffee, as I was trying to come up with the accurate word to describe what I have been feeling the past couple of weeks, the Spirit whispered, “Quiet”.

Quiet. A word I didn’t know if I could ever fully experience now describes me right now. I’m not distracted anymore, and honestly I don’t care that I’m not. I’m not worried and bothered by so many things. Jesus has been helping me simplify my life and remove distractions over the past few months, and I have chosen to be led by the Spirit in this removal. And I feel ALL the ways that quiet is described. Why?

Because HIS yoke is easy.

I made the decision to take on His yoke and lay down my own. He didn’t force it on me, but He did ask me to come. It’s a gift He wanted to give me, but I had to come on my own. I had to choose to take it on. And Jesus was right as He spoke to the disciples that day, just like His words are still true today. HIS yoke is easy.

 

Death of a Dream

A few months ago I found out I wouldn’t be able to start my Master’s Degree this fall. Though I was already accepted into the program, after registering for classes I found out that I was going to have to pay a lot of money out of pocket. Sure, there was the option of a loan, but I had already made up my mind that I was not going to put my family in any more debt. So, feeling it was the right decision to make, I withdrew and did not start the program.

To say the least, I was disappointed, and I took time to grieve this loss of a dream. Because although people were telling me, “It doesn’t mean it’s a no forever, it’s just something that’s not right for you right now,” on the inside I knew that this was it. I would not pursue this path again. It was all for selfish gain, and I had let my pride get in the way. What was an idea passing through in my mind had turned into a major career decision. So right there, as I was crying in the bathtub one night, I let go. I gave it all to God. I asked for Him to bring contentment in this season and for Him to teach me to cease striving. I needed to learn who I am to Him and what my identity is as His daughter.

Sometimes dreams have to die. Dreams that come from a deceitful heart, dreams that are for selfish gain, have no place in the life of a believer and are outside the will of God.

Contentment did not come instantly, it took some time. Honestly, I am still learning what that means. So as the months rolled on I allowed Him to put to death my old ways of thinking and to destroy what was left of my “old” mind. I prayed for Him to renew my mind, to build it back up on a foundation built on His Word. Brick by brick, that is what he has been doing, and I believe this process of renewal is one that will continue until I am made complete in the day of Christ.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”            (Romans 12:1-2 NASB)

Renewal is not easy. Sacrifice – that is a heavy word. If you know anything about the sacrificial system of the Old Testament then you know how serious God is being in this passage. By presenting our bodies as a sacrifice, our whole bodies, we are actually worshipping Him. Within sacrificing our bodies is the command not to be conformed to this world. How? Renewal of the mind.

I’ve never truly grasped how important these verses – and the whole passage – really are. If something is to be renewed, then that means something must break first so that it can be renewed. Renewal isn’t possible without brokenness. You can’t renew something that is still working.

I was doing the working. Me, by myself, trying to control everything. Fix everything. Figure out life on my own. I was not giving my body as a sacrifice in worship to God.

One Sunday soon after, crying out to the Lord in complete brokenness, I laid it all down. Everything. My whole body and my whole life I laid bare before Him. I asked him to renew it, to restore myself completely to Him.

He is faithful and is doing just that.

Somewhere along the way, I got confused on what I thought God was asking of me, because I didn’t really understand what contentment was. I began labeling certain things, a lot of things, about me as “bad” or “immature and childish”. I told myself it was “time to grow up” and to “stop dreaming”. I tried to become “normal” or at least the “normal” I see so much around me. I began trying to fit the mold of what a “Christian woman should be”. I asked God to guide me to become this “normal” person that I should be.

Then the ideas came back and the dreams began to flow. With every single thought of a dream or a plan, or even an idea, I would submit it to God. “That’s not who I am anymore. I am being renewed.”

It turns out that Satan can be disguised as “an angel of light” even today (2Corinthians 11:14).

I am guilty of trying to “follow my heart”. I did it for years, and I know the heart is wicked. I told God constantly that I was willing to lay everything aside for Him, because I just wanted to follow His will and His plan. I wanted to put His Word above all. But I still made assumptions on what God wanted me to do and who He wanted me to be.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it.”  (Jeremiah 17:9)

This led to the internal struggle that has been raging war inside of me. Finally today I had enough. I was pleading to God “to take these thoughts away” – the ones that planted ideas of dreams in my head. The thoughts that took me away from the normal I thought I was supposed to me.

“What is this is the fire, the light that shines within me, just waiting to shine out. If so, then why was I trying to get rid of my little spark within me?”

Where did that come from? I quickly began to refute this thought and dismissed it as selfish. But the feeling of restlessness was still stirring. Thirty minutes later I was back to pleading, “God, please. Take these dreams away. I don’t have to have a career. I don’t have to go back to school. I’ll stay where I am Lord. I’ll even quit in a couple of years to homeschool if that’s what you want. Just remove these desires, put out these little flames inside me and just help me to be content. I’m trying so hard Lord to get myself out of your way so that you can work your Will and me and guide me through this life. I know now that my identity is found in you, not my job or anything else. It’s just in you Lord.”

It was right there in the midst of the chaos inside that I heard it, that still small voice of the Lord. He spoke to me, “I never told you to stop being who you are”. Relief flooded over me and the tears flowed freely. I had been trying to be what I thought He wanted me to be, but the truth is, I am already who He made me to be. He has uniquely made me who I am, and instead of trying to change that based off of the enemy’s lies, I need to remember that He already loves me perfectly, and no matter what season of life I’m in, I can be content because Christ lives inside of me. True contentment isn’t giving up everything God gifted you with, the talents and skills He designed you with. Those things are there for a reason, for a purpose, for His Kingdom.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 NASB)

I still don’t have all the answers to the questions down in my heart. I know I still have a whole lot of growth left in my walk with Christ. One thing, however, that I am learning is that my identity is FULLY in Christ, clearly outlined in His Word, and that He created me as me, on purpose, to be the “me” He created me to be. Because I get the opportunity to play a role in His story. Because I am blessed to have a specific role to play in the body of Christ. Because He loves me.

We have to die to ourselves, recognize who we are in Christ, so that our true dreams – the ones God placed there – can be revealed. Those dreams align with His great purpose for us and His Kingdom.

Renewal (09.24.17)

In the 13th year, on the 9th day, of the 14th hour, I began to prepare the place of my memorial to the Lord. I began by praying to the Lord, and then read Joshua 3 and 4. I cleared a space against the tree and laid the 9 bricks to form my altar to the Lord – 9 for the number God gave me as a promise long ago that was founded in His speaking of Genesis 9:13 to me. It also just happened to be 9 days into my 13th year of salvation. These numbers remind me of a great promise He gave me years ago, and of His faithfulness He gives us in the rainbow from Genesis 9:13.

1

Next I gathered the 5 jars that represented the 5 idols of my life, idols that had only recently been revealed to me. I have spent the majority of my life obsessing over these 5 idols, consumed with them and all they represent to me, and I knew they must be destroyed.

2

I then took up my pen and paper and wrote my letter of repentance to God, for Him alone to know. I laid it upon the altar and lit it on fire to be consumed for the Lord while reading Joshua 4:24 aloud: “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever”. I then read it a second time, this time replacing “you” with “I” and “your” with “my”.

3

By this time the letter had been consumed and I gazed upon the jars which I had filled with water. The read, “My plans”, “My dreams”, “My education”, “My career”, and “My MIND” – this last one was the driving force between the other idols and had been my most treasured idol, so it was the biggest jar. One by one I took each jar and poured it onto the altar. The ashes of the letter were washed away, and I continued this process until all the jars were empty, for to be filled we must first be empty.

With the idols now dry of any and all investments I once had in them, I again laid them on the altar, one by one, and destroyed each with the hammer, praying with each movement I took.

4

With the idols now destroyed, I opened up the Word and read Matthew 26:26-28 and took communion before the Lord, for I now understood my spiritual position. I then played “Have It All” and worshipped before the Lord, singing aloud in that place, praising Him for all He has done and for this season of renewal.

5

I named the place ἀνακαινόω (anakainoō), which is Greek for “renew”. In Greek this means to renew, to restore, to bring back; make new; restore. Whenever I see this place, I will know my inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16), and I will know the hand of the Lord is mighty so that I may fear the Lord my God forever (Joshua 4:24). For I will speak of this place forever as a physical representation of how God has moved in my life. This is the place where I was washed in God’s grace. This is the place where destruction became renewal. This is the place that speaks of what the Lord has done.

6

Oh praise Him, praise Him forever!

Renewal (Intro.)

“A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak.”   – Ecclesiastes 3:7 NASB

If you keep up with my blog at all, you’ve probably noticed it’s been a while since I have posted anything. All summer long I have wanted to write, but I have felt like something was preventing me, like there was this wall up. There were several times I would sit down to write and nothing would come. Other times I would start writing a post, but would be lost minutes later. Then, about halfway through summer, I read this verse and realized that I was in a season of silence. I honestly didn’t know when this season would end, but I tried to be patient and hang on through the season until I became released to speak (which is writing for me) again.

Today, just days into the Fall season, my release has come and I enter into a time to speak. You see, a few weeks ago, God revealed to be that in my heart I had been guilty of idolatry. Those idols had to be destroyed, or as the verse above says, torn apart. This was the reason for my season of silence.

But nine days ago I entered my 13th year of salvation, and I knew on that day that these idols had been destroyed, yet there was a deep yearning in my heart to do some sort of physical representation of this. I could feel God moving, but doing something on that level was completely unknown to me. I knew I was to build a memorial, but I didn’t know how or from what, and so I begin to pray for God to guide me and show me what to do, and I promised obedience in return.

Then today came, and today I heard one of the most convicting sermons ever in my life. It was exactly what I needed to hear, but still made my soul so heavy. I knew I would need time to process the words I had heard and all that God was moving in my soul.

After arriving home I got Autumn settled for a nap and went outside to cut grass and clean my head to prepare my heart for what I was about to do. I prayed again for God to show me how to build a memorial for Him, and when He answered I grabbed what was needed and began to build my memorial for Him…

*Read my next post “Renewal (09.24.17)” to see what happens next!

Community Group

It’s Wednesday night and this is the first “free” Wednesday night we’ve really had since last September when Community Groups started back at our church. This was Brandon and mine’s first time being in a community group, or a small group of any kind for that matter, and it was just simply amazing.

This past week I’ve been reflecting on how much our group has meant to us, and I would like to share some of those thoughts with you.

We started going to Dublin Bible Church in early April 2016, so just over a year ago now. We knew that first Sunday we went that we were “home”. Not long after we started going we heard them mention community groups, but they end in May and we never got a chance to go. However, the women’s Bible study started that June and I decided to join in. I’m so glad I did because I loved it and it helped me meet some of the other women in the church. But as the fall started approaching, talk of community groups began again and I brought it up to Brandon. We talked and both agreed that we wanted to join a group, but neither of us really knew what to expect since we had never been in a small group before.

In August we found out our first group meeting would be mid-September (we would then meet every Wednesday night at our leaders’ home) and we found out who would be in our group. We sort of knew everyone in the group at that time, but when the time came for our first time to get together, we were both nervous. I can’t speak for him, but all summer long I had heard about how great community groups were, and how much everyone just loved their group, so I had pretty high expectations. I didn’t expect us to all instantly connect, but I did hope that we would all grow close, and that’s exactly what happened.

We didn’t talk a whole lot the first couple of weeks, but it was not long at all before we started opening up and connecting with the other couples in our group. Wednesday nights very soon became my favorite night of the week. Each week Brandon and I found out we had more and more in common with everyone there, and each week it seemed like God was teaching us the same lessons, and speaking into our lives in very similar ways.

The holidays came and went, and 2017 began with adding another couple to our group, and it even more completed us. This made 10 of us total, and each week we continues to grow, both in each other and in God. We began to talk more during the week, and they became “my people”. They were my people to laugh with, to lean on, to confess to, to discuss with, and to just simply do life with. Wednesday nights became treasured memories of comfort and security. Our group was a place where each of us could be completely honest and vulnerable with each other, knowing no one would look down on us or judge us, and we could be confident that what happened in our group would stay in the group. That honestly I believe brought us even closer together and molded us into a little family.

This family changed our lives. Maybe that sounds dramatic to some, or over the top, but it is the truth. It has had such a huge impact in our relationships with God, in our marriage, in parenting, and really every area of our lives. Brandon and I have both grown so much this past year, and I know that so much of it is because of being a part of this group. Community is something both of our souls were so desperately looking for, and this past year, we sure found it. It has become so important, so special to us, and it’s all because of you, living out life in obedience to Christ, “doing life in circles, not rows”. A.J., Ashley, Casey, Clint, Buck, Jasmine, Kenrick, and Julia: from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU! Thank you for loving us and allowing us to do life with you! We love you guys and look forward to the future with you!!