Thursday, February 27, 2014

When I Assaulted a Complete Stranger...

I assaulted a complete stranger in the middle of Cracker Barrel.  Mike and Taylor took me to breakfast for my birthday. There’s not much better than Cracker Barrel’s hash brown casserole, so the decision on where to go was easy.  But then it happened. 

Now our daughter, Taylor is a beautiful blend of her parents.  I raised her to be a feisty and full of life, and her dad taught her to be caring and compassionate.  She’s taken every trait we’ve tried to model throughout her life and perfected it in her own, lovely way. Being with Taylor brings out the silliness in me.  She stirs up my need for competition and humor. What I’m about to share was not her fault. 

I started it.  Yes, me, the MOM in the group.  I initiated a game of napkin soccer on the table in the restaurant, and Taylor was all too happy to participate.  Of course she scored more soccer-napkin goals than me.  I needed an amazing soccer kick to avoid losing the game, so I stopped for concentration, aimed carefully at her forehead and flicked the napkin as high as my middle flicking finger would send it.

In all the napkin soccer games that our family has ever played, my high kicks have never flown higher than the shoulders of my kids.  I truly can’t think of a single time.  Until yesterday.  On my forty sss…omething-ith birthday, my middle finger performed the most perfect napkin soccer kick of my life.  The napkin flew, and flew, and flew. My daughter was proud and began to raise her hands in celebration of my accomplishment.  But then, she saw the expression of shock and humiliation on my face.

The napkin flew up and over Taylor’s head and landed, perfectly centered, in the middle of a table where a young man and woman were trying to enjoy their breakfast.  Of course it wasn’t a clean napkin.  It was a dirty, crumpled napkin that invaded their privacy  in the most intrusive, obnoxious way.  The man’s voice was loud and stern as he simply said, “Wow.”   His back was to me and he couldn’t see who launched the missile.

What shocked me most was my own longing to hide.  I had no desire – none – to fess up to what I’d done.  Maybe I could help the man think that someone else had done this terrible deed.  As he slowly turned around it was clear that there was no way to conceal my actions. The way our tables were positioned, my location, and my beet-red face still buried in my hands were all that he could see.  Our eyes met.  He knew who-dun-it, and I was speechless.

It was my husband who spoke first.  “Sir, we are so sorry.” And then the man began to laugh.  He said he expected to see a young kid, but instead saw a mom.  Praise the Lord that the man was a great sport and found humor in the situation. 

It was funny, indeed, but the Lord had zeroed into my heart with a giant magnifying glass and revealed my initial reaction to hide from what I’d done. Like the blame game that took place in the Garden of Eden I wanted to find someone toward whom I could point my finger and say, “She did it, not me!” The Holy Spirit deeply convicted me of my attitude and willingness to let someone else take the blame. My desire was to protect myself from prosecution, but I couldn’t find a way to wiggle away from the truth. I had no choice but to stand in the light, even when I desperately wanted to hide from it.

Sometimes when life moves at its fastest pace and we react in the moment instead of considering what is most pleasing to God, we get busted.  When all was said and done, I was given a few more chances to do the right thing.  I confessed, I apologized and then I hunted down the couple’s waitress and paid for their breakfast. I declared this a “life-changing experience” and Mike was visibly excited, believing that napkin soccer was over forever. His excitement was short-lived when Taylor and I vowed to take up the sport again, but to save it for home.  No, the lesson for me was not about soccer, but about a fleshly, natural reaction to cover the truth had it been possible to do so. 

The Lord gave me a gentle, but firm reminder on my birthday that His ways do not come naturally to our flesh.  For me, it was one more tough lesson on how much I need His strength to walk in any measure of self-control.  My desire is to do the right things, but when my flesh is allowed to react before I can consider my options, there’s an obvious tendency to choose what is not right at all. It’s nothing short of a spiritual battle through temptation, even when the stakes aren’t high and when everyone involved can laugh about what’s happened. 

I received a fresh reminder that I’ve a long way to grow.  I’m thankful for the Lord’s grace and encouragement along the way.  I’m grateful that He never gives up on us and loves His children at all times and through all trials.  My heart overflows with thanks as I consider this stern but gentle reminder. For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:12 NASB).  I know that the Lord wants His best for me, and together, we’ll keep moving toward it.

This morning, His mercies were new once again and I received a fresh start in walking by His strength.  May you find his new mercies as well, as we learn from yesterday’s mistakes and pursue today’s blessing.

Be Strengthened today, by His Word,

Psalm 119:28

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

6 Ways I Found Freedom Through Planning

I misread an e-mail the other day and didn’t realize until I sat alone, waiting for the other parties to arrive, that our 7 am meeting was cancelled.  I’m not one who likes to be out of my house early in the morning. I don’t mind getting up early to enjoy my quiet time and devotions, but I avoid leaving the house before sunrise at all costs. I was slightly frustrated at my own mistake, but realized I just found time for a project I’d wanted to do for some time.

Alone in the quiet, I created a weekly budget for my time. I know. That sounds like a ghastly project. Most people feel rather restricted by a budget; and managing our time is always a difficult charge.  The Lord instructs in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk – not as unwise people but as wise – making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” While we can’t actually “manage” time (it is beyond our control to speed it up or slow it down), we can be careful how we spend it and make the most of what we’re given. 

Personally, I knew that if I did not develop a plan – and quickly – I’d remain in my state of feeling so overwhelmed that I was unable to move in any direction. Have you ever felt that way? There is hope! The instant my time budget (aka calendar blocking, aka outlining an “ideal week”) was finished, I felt amazing freedom. Here’s why: 
  1. Writing down my priorities and carefully placing them into my weekly calendar brought peace. To say I’ve recently felt overwhelmed is an understatement. Yet when I navigate my days with purpose, I can get a lot done! Did you realize that if we sleep 8 hours a night and work for 8 hours a day, we still have 8 hours each day for other things? Yes, that includes a commute to and from work, cooking, cleaning, and all that we must accomplish, but it also leaves a lot of time for things we want to accomplish – an entire 40-hour work week of time! With a plan in place, I can spend less time feeling overwhelmed, more time working with purpose and peace.
  2. A time budget brings clarity!  As I write this post, my mind is not swimming with other things I “should” be doing. My thoughts are clear and I feel free to give my full attention to that which I’m accomplishing right this minute. I have allotted a certain block of time to this post and when my time is up, I’ll move on to my next project. I’ll complete it, too, without distractions and the feeling that I need to rush through it to get on to something else. I know that my priorities are scheduled and if I stick to my plan, they will all happen.
  3. I found time for me!  We needn’t fill every minute with tasks and chores. I believe that the Lord wants us to have rest, and good, old-fashioned f-u-n! It’s also true that when we care for ourselves, we are better able to care for and minister to others. By creating a time budget, I learned that if I am focused and purposeful, I have time for a nap (yes, I said “NAP”) on Mondays when my day begins at 5 am and my last meeting ends at 9 pm. I can spend an hour or two during the week working on my latest crochet project and I can sometimes catch dinner and a movie with my man. 
  4. There’s accountability. My schedule is messy. I don’t work at my office from 8-5 every day, but have early morning and late night hours. I work during the weekend, but not all weekend. My hours can be difficult to track if I don’t stay on top of it. My pay is salary and not hourly and occasionally, I feel concern that I put in enough work.  So, I retrace my steps, taking valuable time to calculate my hours and ensure I’m on track. When I stick to my time budget, I plan my work hours in advance instead of calculating them as an afterthought.   This helps me stay accountable to my employer (who in my case is the God of the universe! I certainly don’t want to short Him on work hours!)
  5. I can walk in obedience.  Sometimes I feel called by the Lord to complete a particular thing, then fret and agonize about when I’ll find time to get it done. With a time budget, I know that I have time set aside to pursue the Lord’s calling. Whew! Does that ever relieve a burden!
  6. God is still in control. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines His steps.” (HCSB)  I invite the Lord to come and disrupt my carefully planned schedule, open my eyes to His plan, and allow me to experience the beauty He has prepared.  That will mean, from time to time, that I throw my time budget out the window for as long as He instructs, and walk as He leads in each moment.  I can step back into the plan when He directs.  

As a society, we tend to want to avoid things that establish boundaries or seem to “hem us in” and keep us from doing whatever we want. We often fail to recognize that true freedom comes with structure and direction. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free so we must not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1). I can say with sincerity that I felt the bondage of an overwhelming schedule. I haven’t worked through my new time budget for even a full week, but I am basking in the freedom that it already brings. It’s immense. It’s mighty. It’s of the Lord!

A friend reminded me of Psalm 90:12 – “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” (HCSB)  I desire a heart of wisdom and pray that He will continue to order my steps so that sin will not rule over me (Psalm 119:133). My time belongs to the Lord – every moment of it, and I pray He’ll strengthen me to use each second wisely and for His glory. 

Your Turn:

When have you felt overwhelmed with tasks and assignment to the point of feeling paralyzed and unable to move forward?

What’s your best tip on making the most of your time?

Who do you know who models great intention and purpose with her time? What can you learn from her?

I’d love to hear your comments!

Be strengthened today, by His Word,


Psalm 119:28

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Confess

Well, I blew it.

As you may know, the topic of joy runs through my veins.  I’ve studied it thoroughly. I teach it, I write about it, and I speak about it to any audience that will listen. It’s become my passion. I know that joy is fruit of the Spirit, evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit living within me. I know that the Holy Spirit dwells in me and has resided in me since the instant of my salvation.  I know that joy, as a fruit of the Spirit, is mine to keep. Nothing can steal the joy of a child of God. It’s not physically possible. But we can allow the junk of our world to mask or bury our joy.  Guilty.

Last week was a rough one. I confess that I allowed people with whom I have severely strained relationships to bury my joy.  

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."   James 5:16 NASB 

Over the weekend I came face-to-face with a few people who have become strangers to me.  They’ve hurt me in the past. Deeply. They’ve inflicted the kind of pain that doesn’t heal with an apology because trust is broken.  Forgiveness is accomplished in this situation, purchased at the cross of Christ. I have forgiven those involved and I am willing to forgive them repeatedly, each time their offenses come to mind. I actively pray through those times and immediately lay them - and the hurts they caused - at the foot of the cross.  But until trust is reestablished, I cannot move forward as if nothing happened. I’m unable to put on a happy face and walk in false peace.  There’s a lot of healing still to come, but yesterday I agreed (with God and at the request of my family) to make myself vulnerable and put myself into a situation where I feel unsafe. I joined them for a gathering.

You know how it goes.  When we face an uncomfortable situation, just the anticipation of that situation nearly tears us apart.  Throughout the past week, every hurt, every unkind word, every past rejection came rushing into my mind as if it had just occurred. The wounds, which had once scabbed over, were picked until they once again bled. Some of these wounds are over 30 years old.  That’s a long time to wait for a wound to heal and become a scar of remembrance. Some of the wounds, however, are just a few weeks old and serve as bloodstained fingernails that continue to pick at the wounds. It’s hard to heal during the infliction of additional injuries. 

I confess that I allowed the past to take over my emotions. I allowed thoughts of what might happen to consume my focus. I didn’t carve out time for lengthy periods of seeking God’s face. I didn’t fast. I didn’t do any of the steps I’ve learned to take when Ifeel emotions start to take control. I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t. And before I knew it, I couldn’t find my joy.

I was so grateful this morning, after the weekend events were over and my head began to clear, to climb into my frozen car at 6 am. I turned on my worship playlist, and received the loving embrace of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is still my Redeemer, even when I blow it. He continues to love me as a child of God, even when I feel like an epic failure. This morning, He reminded me through the Spirit that joy is still mine. He wiped away all of the mud and filth that had buried my joy and reminded me that His joy is mine to keep. Forever. 

It’s not always easy to find joy - not when our eyes see trials in the present, our minds see the pain of our past, and our imaginations see concerns for the future. Joy is not always easy to find, even when we know it’s a close as our next breath. Obviously, for me it can still be a struggle to find my joy, but it is getting easier. I’m learning to recognize threats of its burial, and rebounding faster.

I pray that finding joy is getting easier for you, too, my sisters, because, it’s yours. Joy is a gift from the Father, and one that’s yours to keep.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!" Philippians 4:4 (NASB)

“But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.”  Galatians 5:22-23a (NASB)

Your turn:

When have you allowed circumstances to mask your joy? 

How did you find your joy again?

Be strengthened today, by the Word,


Psalm 119:28