Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I Saw You

Hey, October teacher.

I saw you stumbling into the lounge this morning, well before you were paid to be there, fumbling for quarters to get a caffeine fix.

You is broke. You is tired. You is a teacher. So true at the end of the school year!:

I saw the papers spilling out of your bag, the ones you graded too late last night because you promised you would.

I saw that silly Homecoming week get-up you wore to promote school spirit, and I also saw you tutoring that student from 4th period because she just can't understand how to multiply polynomials yet.

I saw you - see you - and wanted you to know.

I also want you to know I understand. October is a hard month in this line of work. The new of August has worn off, the exultation of Christmas break is far away, and you're smack dab in the middle of it all. You're in the meat of the material, the midst of the semester. You're in the meetings and the grading and the planning - and you're wondering if any of it makes a difference.

Rest assured. It does.

I know in the midst of it all you start losing sight of the forest for the trees, and you focus so greatly on the details that you miss the big picture. Those kids you're planning for, grading for, working for? They trust you. They listen to you, they want to please you, and they depend on you. Whether you realize it or not, you have become part of their stories. Years from now, when they speak of whatever grade you teach, they'll speak of you. You and they are connected forever, and everything you're doing now is impacting who they'll become.

Don't forget that.

Yes, I know exams and testing and evaluations are coming, and I know your calendar is overflowing with to-do's. I know your bag is full again today, and tomorrow's hours already seem too short.

But today, if you're feeling the weight of it all, can I invite you - just for a moment - to forget the lists and remember the love? For just a moment, don't think of all you need to do, but all you need to be. Don't look at the grades, but remember their faces. Remind yourself of what matters, and make the right adjustments. Go back to how you felt the day before school started, and recapture just a smidge of that excitement and anticipation. Tomorrow is a new day - a fresh day - the first day of something new. Make it what it needs to be. You're a teacher, and you have that power.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

She Stiffed Me Fifty Cents

I woke up yesterday morning absolutely irate with an imaginary cashier at a grocery store from my dreams because she stole fifty cents from me.

I have no idea what I ate that might have caused such a realistic and ridiculous dream, but let it be known that if you ever steal fifty cents from me, I will find your manager (whose name was Gage, by the way, in this dream that needs to be analyzed) and give him a piece of my mind. And if he smirks at me because "it's just fifty cents," we will have a conversation about integrity and how the monetary amount couldn't matter less - it's a revelation of the heart.

Bless my heart.

I'm trying not to let my heart be hardened against the grocery store chain I dreamed of, but I'm not there, yet. She stole from me, y'all. And Gage didn't care.

So that's how my Saturday started.

And this is how it ended.

Photo courtesy of Travis Lister
My family has season tickets to Clemson, and we're kind of hard core.

While Hurricane Joaquin was sending his rain-remnants last week to South Carolina, we were watching the game. In the rain. Wearing get-ups like this.

And when ESPN College GameDay comes to town, you get a little carried away. Your engineer dad creates gutters for your tents to funnel away the rain,

Travis Lister
you cover the generator to protect it from the monsoon,

Travis Lister
and you exchange your traditional stuffed tigers for a rubber ducky replete with a poncho that you recovered from Bowman field.

You know you're going to get soaking wet, so you prepare yourself mentally and just go with it.

Travis Lister
And this week? Oops - we did it again.

When you were literally born in a college town the year before they last won a National Championship, you don't let little things like driving rain keep you home. Especially when said team is playing really well and is ranked as one of the top teams in the country.

So we went. And we got wet. And they won. And we came home.

And I slept really well after all the rain and excitement, but thank goodness the cashier and Gage didn't visit my dreams again. I have a feeling we would have fought.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

What Your Divorcing Friend Really Needs

So you found out your friend is going through a divorce. She may have called you herself, or you may have heard through the grapevine that her marriage is ending, as half of all do.

As a friend, you want to be there, but you're unsure of what that means. Do you call? Do you ask how she is?

Just what is it she really needs?

My own divorce is now years old, but whenever I hear of another marriage crumbling, my heart is quickened to the needs I had back then, and my deepest desire is to give what is really needed. No, not every person facing divorce is the same, but I believe there are universal needs that most who are divorcing share. (I'm writing from the female perspective since it is my own.)

What She Needs:

She needs you. More than she has ever needed you before, she needs your presence in her life. Divorce often costs people friendships, for reasons understandable and varied. Sometimes friends are mutual between the two who are divorcing, and sometimes they are forced to choose sides. Sometimes people just don't know how to be a friend for a person whose life is suddenly different. A loss of other relationships is almost inevitable in a divorce, but it is devastating nonetheless. Be there for her. Half of her whole is gone, and losing anyone else in her life inflicts a pain she is unequipped to handle. Eliminate that pain and be there for her.

She needs you to treat her like a normal person. Yes, perhaps she is going through the greatest change of her life, but what she desperately wants is not to be different. What she desperately needs is what you normally do. Call her to go for coffee; email her funny jokes; invite her to meet at the park with the kids. She may turn you down or she may stare blankly while she's there, but give her the chance to be normal. Give her the option of feeling like everyone else.

She needs you not to ask, "How are you?". She's not well. She's exhausted from crying all night, and she's worn out from being a single mom. She's stressed out from juggling work and bills and emotions. She's struggling. Don't ask, "How are you?" but ask instead, "What are you struggling with today? How can I pray for you? What can I do to lift your load?" She needs you not to ask her a question to which she's obligated to answer, "I'm fine." Because she's not. She's not fine, and she probably won't be for a while. Even if the divorce were her idea or her desire, she's still not fine. The dissolution of a marriage never results in someone being fine immediately.

She needs you to let her know when you're thinking of her. In the simplest ways, you can let her know she's on your mind - because she might feel like she's on no one's. Years ago, a dear friend of mine sent me this little card in the midst of my divorce, and it's still in my car today.

The smallest gesture on her part then has me in tears today remembering it. She knew what was happening in my life, she thought of me, and she took the time to let me know. Small acts are magnified when they are genuine. Send her a text, a card, some flowers - just let her know she is not forgotten.

She needs to treat herself. I can virtually guarantee that she is not splurging on manicures, new clothes, or trendy jewelry from Charming Charlie's. She is putting one foot in front of the other to make it through each day, and self-care isn't even on her list anymore. She needs you not to give her the option of taking care of herself. Make the appointment, secure the babysitter, and don't give her a reason to say no. For whatever amount of time you can manage, make her the priority in her own life. She sure won't do it herself.

She needs a safe place to share her fears. Many of her feelings right now make sense and are understandable, but many of them follow no logic. She might, in the deepest parts of herself, be convinced that her life will never be good again. She might believe she will never be loved again, and she might think the hurt will always be this fresh. She might be scared to sleep with the light off, and she might be afraid that her children will be scarred. She might be afraid of running into people who don't know what happened, and she might be afraid to eat alone in a restaurant. The world of divorce brings never thought-of-before fears, and when those fears don't see truth-illuminating daylight, they fester and grow more intense. Ask her directly, "What fears are you facing right now?" and don't be shocked at the answers. Satan is playing tricks in her mind, and you need to remind her of truth.

She needs you not to bash her ex. Regardless of the circumstances of the divorce, he was a man she loved, and she doesn't need to hear that she was a fool for ever loving him. She might be angry and upset with him, or she might still be on friendly terms with him, but regardless, you need to remain neutral if at all possible. Even if she needs to vent, you need to just listen. Being there for her doesn't necessarily mean being against him.

She needs help with the practicalities of life. Do her laundry. Go grocery shopping. Take the kids so she can nap. Vacuum her car. Buy her kids new shoes. If she's never changed the oil in her car, tell her where to go. Help her balance her checkbook. Take her house hunting if she needs it. Absolutely, she needs emotional help, but the simple ins and outs of life are sometimes more than she can handle. In the emotional fog she may be living in, she may not think to pay her water bill. Be her brain if her own fails to function.

She needs you to understand that the emotional roller-coaster she's riding has nothing to do with you, and she needs you to be patient until that roller-coaster levels out. Some days, your friend will seem fine - and in that moment, she really might be. A week later, though, she might be in a terrible place emotionally. The emotions divorce brings are unpredictable and often-changing, and she is at their mercy in many ways. She sometimes has to walk through what you will never understand. (And if you don't, don't act like or say you do. She needs to be able to trust your authenticity even if it means your saying, "I have no idea how you're feeling.") Give her time but not too much space. Let her go through the ups and downs without feeling like she needs to hide them.

She needs to laugh. Oh my goodness, does she ever. So much seriousness surrounds her - lawyers and court dates and custody arrangements and documents. Her capacity for it all is at full peak, and she desperately needs some levity to balance it all out. Provide the fun she feels guilty for having. Laughing will feel foreign to her at first, as if she's betraying the gravity of the divorce. Whatever you do, make that girl laugh. Help her release the emotions pent up inside, and remind her that fun isn't forever removed from her life.

In short, be for your friend what she cannot be for herself. Be her fun, her truth-teller, her hands and feet and brain. Just be there for her. When you think of her, let her know. When you feel like she needs help, give it. When she crosses your mind, pray for her. Divorce will change her, and she needs you to love her through it. She needs you to love her in spite of it. She just needs you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I've Been There

I tell my students all the time, "Guys, listen. I've been where you're going. I've been to 10th grade English, and I know what they expect you to know. I've been to the SAT, and I know what you have to be able to do. I've been to college, and I know that the quality you're turning in now won't cut it then."

I tell them I've been there because they need to know I'm trustworthy. They need to know my methods aren't haphazard but are preparing them for what's to come. They need to know my knowledge of their yet-to-come determines my actions in their happening-right-now.

They need to know, and so do I.

I need to know my God is trustworthy. I need to know His methods aren't haphazard, and I need to know His knowledge of my yet-to-come determines His actions in my happening-right-now.

It's so tempting and natural for me to forget God knows. He knows what was and is, and most comfortingly, He knows what will be. The future is past to Him, and He is not limited by the space and time that bind me. Nothing I face surprises His heart, and everything I face passes through His hands.

When I lose sleep worrying about what I can't see, His eye is on the sparrow - and on me, too. When I fear all that is to come, He knows exactly what I'll face and has prepared me throughout my life specifically for it. Nothing in my life has been haphazard or without plan. 

If I, as a fallible teacher, plan ahead for what my students will face, how much more does my loving Father plan ahead for His child?

When my world-hardened heart tries to convince me there's something I need that I don't have, my always gracious God reminds me that " good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless" (Psalm 84:11).

When my weary body and restless mind convince me I cannot keep going, my understanding and encouraging God tells me, "Everything is possible for one who believes" (Mark 9:23).

When my pain and isolation whisper, "Nobody understands," my Savior and Redeemer says, "I will never leave you or forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

When my trial feels unending, my God reminds me, "Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).

Nothing reassures us quite as much as encouragement from someone who has been where we're headed, whether it's a class we're taking, an illness we're facing, or an age we're parenting. But sometimes there's not a person who can tell us we'll be ok. Sometimes we face waters uncharted by those we know. Sometimes we just don't know anyone who has been where we're going. It's in those moments that we can tell what our faith is really made of, and it's in those moments we can see if we really trust the God we profess. 

God has been where we are going. His throne "has stood from time immemorial," and He is from "the everlasting past" (Psalm 93:2). Even if no person we know has been where we're going, our God has. Not only has He been in and seen our future, He has ruled sovereignly over it. We can trust that He plans to prosper and not harm us in the hope and future that is to come. 

He is not only the teacher who has seen the future courses, He is the one who created them. He is also the one who made us for them, knitting us together to successfully navigate them all. 

Our God is the One who can truly say, "I've been where you're going," and He is the One who is truly trustworthy. His ways are not haphazard, and His knowledge of the future determines His actions now. When the fear of the unknown presses heavily into our souls, may we press heavily into the One who knows. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Veteran's Advice for Newbie Teachers

Fourteen years ago, I taught my first group of students, and recently I gave some advice to a practicum student under my supervision. Poor guy - he probably doesn't realize that classroom experience doesn't qualify me as an expert or even mean I halfway feel confident in what I'm doing.

Nonetheless, I decided to compile a list of my best advice. If you're a new teacher, here you go. I'm hitting you with my best shot:

1. Forget approximately 56% of everything your university just taught you. It's theoretical methodology that only holds water in ideal conditions with high-achieving, issue-less students. The students you face will not follow the formula, and each must be treated individually. There is no "one size fits all" method for your wee ones. Take bits and pieces of the best theories and combine them with your teacher's intuition. A teacher's gut is better than an untried theory any day.

2. Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If your kids are hungry, exhausted, or stressed from their parents' all night screaming fests, they can't learn. Period. Fix what you can and love them through what you can't. If their basic needs aren't being met, your love will have a much greater effect on them than any standard ever legislated. Be their safe place, and you will have made a difference.

3. Be funny. Only poor classroom managers say things like "You can't smile until after Christmas." If you can't laugh in a room full of children and simultaneously maintain control, you should never have been awarded a teaching certificate. 

4. Decorate your classroom. You will literally be locked in those four walls for hours at a time. Create for yourself (and your children) a haven that reflects your personality. Your school kids want to see pictures of your home kids, and they need something interesting to look at when you bore them. Which you will. (Sometimes you're boring. No offense. You'll even bore yourself). Teach long enough, and I promise you'll start to sound like the Charlie Brown teacher even to yourself. 

5. Never try to start a diet during the school year. Caffeine and sugar are food groups that will sustain you in this profession, and trying to give them up will only give you unbelievable headaches and a case of the grumps that will make your students (and colleagues) beg for mercy. Do everyone a favor and eat a Snickers. You're not yourself when you're hungry.

6. Stop trying to grade everything. Collect it all and assess only what's most important. If you try to grade everything they create, you will be a crazy person by week two. Trust me - I know. (Read this if you're currently trying to do it all. It will free you.)

7. Know that being nice doesn't mean being easy. Push those little boogers until they plead for mercy. They can work harder than they think they can, and they will never know how much they can accomplish until they have no other option. Forget giving them "Free Fridays" and "Ketchup Days." (Click here to read my thoughts on such things. Don't get me started. Don't even get me started). Don't reward laziness and a lack of responsibility with extra time to complete assignments or entire school days to play board games. When was the last time you were given Friday off just because you worked hard Monday through Thursday? Aren't we supposed to be preparing these kids for life? Jobs? Maturity? Come on, now. 

If you didn't get the grade you wanted, it's highly possible I didn't get the work I wanted.:
8. Learn the names of your janitors, secretaries, and support staff. They make the school run, and when you hypothetically lock your keys inside your classroom for the third time in a week, they will smile and unlock the door if you know their names and speak to them like the people they are as they sweep the floor of your trashed room. If you think you're better than they are, you need to quit teaching and work the long, thankless hours they do so you understand. (BTW - Mrs. Lizzie no longer cleans my room, and I am devastated. She would come in and we'd talk about books, my favorite thing. She always checked them out of my classroom library, and she'd take some for her granddaughter. Bless. I miss that lady).

9. For the love of paper clips and Rubbermaid containers - get yourself organized. You do not have enough hours in the day to be fumbling around trying to find the answer key you created for the vocabulary quiz. Spend time up front creating yourself a system, then use the heck out of it. You will love yourself for doing so, and your students will be grateful that you know exactly where their make-up work is. 

10. Use Google Drive. Thumb drives are so 2007. Google, that blessed miracle of technology, lets you access your files from ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Begin a document at school and finish it at home. It's a wonder. If  you don't know how to use it, email me. Seriously. No shame here - you will drop to your knees and praise Jesus when you realize how handy the old internets can be. 

11. Get a hobby. I love to read, write, and run, and if I neglect any of them for very long, I become very grouchy and my husband begins to ask questions like, "Do you want me to watch the kids so you can go run?" Do something to unwind. You could devote 24 hours a day to teaching and lesson planning and emailing parents and grading. Don't. There's a time and place for working your tail off, and there's a time to let it go. (Stop singing Frozen. Seriously. Let it go). Let yourself be just you for a little while each day. You will be a much better teacher (and spouse and parent and friend) if you take off your teacher hat every now and then.

12. Don't analyze the kids' permanent records before you meet them. Seeing test scores and guidance reports and custody arrangements will give you preconceived (and perhaps wrong) ideas and will subconsciously impact your treatment of that child. Let the kids, not the documents, give you first impressions.

13. Wear comfortable shoes. (I am very bad at this. Teaching high school freshmen makes me want to be cute and fashionable, so I make unwise footwear choices. Case in point - today I wore tall wedges. My feet now look as swollen as they did when I was 36 weeks pregnant. I regret my vanity).

14. Only praise sincerely. Don't say their work/effort/answer is good if it isn't. If you dole out empty words, you will lose their respect (and invite mediocre work). Praise them when appropriate and encourage more work/effort/answers when it isn't. 

15. Be OK with students not making all A's. All A's don't make you a good teacher, and I used to fall into the trap of thinking they did. A's should indicate mastery, so if your students aren't yet experts on the material, they should not receive an A. If your students immediately master everything you "teach" and never struggle or need any remediation, are you even really teaching? 

16. Avoid the negative Nancy (Nancies?) in your building. You need people to lift and bolster you, not beat down and depress you. Find the hot-air balloon personalities and hitch a ride. Ditch the anvils. Ain't nobody got time to hear all the complaints. Be a solution-maker, not a complaint-giver.

17. Buy stock in Post-it notes. Seriously. You will think of the most random things in the middle of teaching, and if you don't jot them down on the yellow squares that substitute for your memory, you will forget to buy toilet paper on the way home. 

18. Keep a file called "Why I Teach" because some days, you'll need a reminder. Keep those notes, drawings, and emails. When you get down, these will lift you. You're in it for those highlight-reel moments, and if you're not intentional about remembering them, they'll get lost in the tough times.

19. Make your students think and not just regurgitate facts. This world needs people who question the status quo and who don't automatically believe what presidential candidates say just because they're on television. We need out-of-the-box thinkers and people who approach problems from an angle not previously considered. (Hint - this means your tests should not just be multiple choice - even though they're faster to grade.)

20. Talk about what you read. Each day, I open class with an excerpt of something I've recently read. I've shared novels, nonfiction best sellers, articles from ESPN . . . Remind your students - daily - that literacy is the key to the world you're preparing them to enter. Words - and the stories they create - bring people together and show us our commonalities, and sharing words is the fastest way to create community in a classroom. Give your students a word-rich environment that's exciting and fresh, and with any luck, they'll want to recreate one for themselves. 

So there you have it. You're in an incredible profession, and even though it's demanding and under a microscope, you can rest at night knowing that kids' lives are different because of your impact. (Well, you can rest if you know it's a good impact. Don't be that teacher who's remembered 30 years later for being a complete jerk. Don't be that guy). Do what you do the best that you can, and just love the kids. Laugh with them, challenge them, and be a real person to them. That's what they need - real laughs, real challenges, and real love. Maybe there is a formula to this teaching thing after all

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Just Do Your Assignment

There's been a whole lot of this in my life lately.

My firstborn - my 6 pound baby boy - is tackling and being tackled. He owns a helmet and knows about defensive plays, and I have to watch as boys built like men drive him to the ground.

Needless to say, my prayer life has changed.

He loves football, but this is his first year. Most of the other guys have been out there before, so he's had a lot of making up to do. He's had to learn positions and plays, and he also has what we'll call a significant size deficit. (He's a year younger than everybody on his team, so the poor kid is easy to pick out of the crowd.)

At this week's game, though, this happened.

He got one of the two golden game coins. After each game, the coaches choose both an offensive and defensive player to receive recognition. And my baby boy got one.

Now, listen. He didn't score a touchdown. He didn't catch a pass. He didn't do anything for which his name would be in lights.

He just did his assignment.

He was told to block, so he blocked. Play after play, every time he was in, he tried to block whoever was in his path. Nothing fancy, nothing worthy of a highlight reel. He just blocked. He just did his assignment.

When that coach announced his name, though, I swear to you I got a lump in my throat and wanted to yell (but didn't) "THAT'S MY BABY!"

Isn't that the goal we all have for our babies? To do their assignments? I don't know yet what God's purpose is for that child. I know it's going to be amazing, and I know it's going to be specific, but I can't tell you what it will be. Chances are high his name won't be in lights, and chances are high he won't be world-renowned. Regardless, though, I just want him to do his assignment. I just want him to know what he's been told to do and to do it. Period.

Sometimes I forget this applies to me, too. Just today, I was scrolling through Instagram after work, and I saw post after post of amazing, unique, and attention-worthy things people had accomplished while I was working. It made me jealous, and it made me want to do what they were doing. But you know what? I have an assignment, and my assignment is not what they are doing. For now, my assignment is to cherish and raise up the young adults in my classroom. So that's what I'm going to do. My name may not be in lights, and I may not be world-renowned, but that doesn't mean my assignment is any less important.

If a blocker doesn't do his assignment, neither can the play-makers. If I don't do my assignment, neither can the play-makers I'm charged with influencing. My assignment matters. It may not always feel like it, and there may be days I wish my assignment were different, but my assignment in the right-now matters right now.

Sometimes, our assignments must be done in the rain.

It doesn't matter what the conditions are. It might be raining, and you might be tired, and you might be praying for the clock to get to the final seconds. The assignment matters even then, and sometimes most especially then. When you understand the importance of the task you've been given, you keep going even in the rain. You keep blocking even when you're tired. And, sometimes, you might just get the golden coin that reminds you your assignment matters.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Bold Prayer

A Prayer as Our 21 Day Fast Ends:

"God, we've been through a lot these past 21 days. There have moments of enlightenment, times of frustration, and nonstop reliance on you. It's not easy to give up things that are such a normal part of life on this planet, and whether it was food or Facebook, substances or sleep, we all set aside something to hear from you more. We all abstained from something to grow closer to our Sustainer. As this time of deliberate separation from the world comes to a close, we pray that the real results are only beginning. We ask, God, that what you began in us during these 21 days will grow and multiply in ways we cannot imagine. Many of us were praying specific prayers, and we ask you to show us the specific answers we seek. Many of us were looking for breakthroughs, and we ask you to show us the paths we couldn't see before.

What BOLD prayers are you praying?  Don't stop praying because God is listening and waiting to answer!!!  Mark Batterson quote from The Circle Maker.:
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But we're also praying something else, God, and we're courageously asking it. We're asking you to show us both something about ourselves and something about you that we didn't even know would come through this time. We're asking for a divine revelation that completely takes us by surprise. Remind us that you are bigger than we dare think, and teach us that you can do more in us than we even know to ask for. Begin it even now, Lord. Sweep us off our feet, and leave us in awe of who you are."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Bags of Good Intentions

I had an argument with God today over trash, and He won.


I was innocently walking to my car after work, juggling three bags across the parking lot (because who doesn't need three bags full of stuff you won't actually work on over the weekend even though you tell yourself you will?).

And there it was. A piece of trash. Plastic littering the serene asphalt landscape.

I saw it and had that thought we all have: "I should pick that up." And then I had the other thought we all have: "Nope. Not mine. And my hands are full."

So I loaded all the bags of good intentions into the mom van and intended to head on my merry way. That's when I heard it. No, not the James Earl Jones voice of God booming from heaven. The quiet whisper of God in my spirit. "Go back and pick that up. Right now."

I didn't want to. I wanted to blast the air conditioning in that van and drive away and enjoy the beginning of my weekend. I wanted to let someone else's trash be someone else's problem. But I couldn't. So I didn't. 

The thing about God is that He's not bossy, but He's compelling. When He speaks, He will be heard. The thing about humans, though, is that while we often hear God, we often choose to ignore what He says.

For someone seeking to set herself apart for God, small matters like trash become great opportunities to practice obedience. Walking across parking lots provides opportunities to listen for the Spirit's words. 

There is no place we go and no action we take that is not important in our faith journey. Mundane Friday afternoons (when you think the important work of the day is already done) can be the most important parts of the week. 

Someone else's trash, when you take it on as your own, can escort you into the very presence of God.

So, Lord, thanks for winning the fight today. I guess you really do know best. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Time Out!

Today continues our 21 day series on setting ourselves apart for Christ.

Do you ever just need a time-out from your life? Do you ever wish you could press pause and freeze the action around you while you catch up?

Time is in short supply for many of us, and a 24 hour day just doesn't cut it (if you really feel that sleeping is necessary).

So much is asked of us that it sometimes seems impossible - truly not realistic - to get it all done and still maintain sanity.

Here's what I've discovered about time.

First - you cannot do it all. There really is a limit on your time, and only you can know how much is too much. Learn to say "no" and be unapologetic about it. The Lord has given you the ability to discern what is realistic and what is crippling. Ask Him, listen, and don't be afraid to turn down what you cannot do.

7 Simple Notes on Living with Less:

Second - time spent with people is always better than time spent on tasks. I am a list maker, and I can create tasks to do like nobody's business. Tasks are important and often must be done, but your friends and family need to take precedence over your to-do list. Make it a priority to step away from the to-do's and just be.

Third - you cannot be set apart for Christ if you don't set apart time for Him. Although you may have a jam-packed schedule from the alarm to the pillow, no minutes are better spent than those spent with Him. Meditating on His Word and spending time in prayer can transform the rest of your minutes into ones that feel well-spent.

We all have the same number of minutes in our days. Even when it feels like we don't, we have a say in how we spend them. Invite Christ in to your every moment, and even the busy ones will be filled with His purpose.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Just Do What He Said

Sometimes I wonder if Christians are irrelevant to the unbelieving world because we remove ourselves so far from it.

We recite one of our favorites, that we are to be in the world and not of it, and yes, that is true. But while we're in the world we can't just sit back on our velvety cushioned pedestals and rain down judgment and condemnation. We can't see the problems plaguing very real people and rest on our laurels.

What does it say of our faith when we have every comfort the American Dream can provide but our brothers and sisters around the globe are slaughtered for the very same faith? What message do we send when scores of refugees are fleeing imminent death, but we refuse them aid? What is revealed of our God when His people are best known for rejection, isolation, and materialism? What message does the world see when churches squabble with each other over minor issues such as contemporary music versus traditional hymns (and we do so by passively aggressively posting articles on Facebook rather than having actual conversations with actual people)?

People - real people - are starving to death and dying of preventable diseases and are being persecuted for following Christ, and all of that happens while we American Christians shoot daggers in each others' backs (ignoring life and death issues and heaven and hell issues) because we can't believe someone would dare wear blue jeans to church instead of starched shirts and ties.

No wonder so many people think we're crazy.

How about this for setting ourselves apart?

Let's do what Jesus said. Let's love Him and love people. Let's help those who need help and encourage those who are hurting and lift those who are down. Let's be light in darkness and salt in tastelessness and hope in despair.

Let's give our extras to those without, and let's think of how we can show love rather than show why someone's wrong.

Let's be like Jesus, for Pete's sake.

We make Christianity about a million little things it was never intended to be about. We strain out a gnat but swallow a camel and forget that love covers a multitude of sins.

Favorite Bible Verses | Corstina

Love God and love others.

The greatest commandment - the simplest one - and the one that we almost never follow.

Really want to set yourself apart today? Love. Just love.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Filled with Joy

Setting Ourselves Apart by Showing Why God is Good

Shouldn't Christians be the most joy-filled people on the planet? As people who have been plucked from the very pit of destruction, we have the greatest reason ever to face this world with rejoicing. 

Yet, for many, a permanent scowl and judgmental finger are the hallmarks, not unending joy.

Instead of shining light into darkness, we cast blame. Instead of welcoming with open arms, we reject with condemnation. Rather than being the hands and feet of Jesus, we speak words He never said.

If we truly want to set ourselves apart in a world that needs the Lord, we must start by showing why Jesus is desirable. Lives that only testify to what's wrong with the world don't testify to the grace of God.

Yes, it's easy and natural to see the negatives. Yes, it takes conscious effort to bite our tongues when judgmental words come so easily. But if we really want others to want our God, we have to remember that we are His representatives and that our behavior reflects on Him.

Make up your mind today that your life tomorrow will reflect your God.

Monday, September 7, 2015

More Than Enough

In our 21 day journey of setting ourselves apart for Christ, I'll be sharing prayers we can ask individually and corporately. Today's will be a prayer of thanksgiving.

Today's Prayer: "Today, Lord, I woke up far better off than the vast majority of the world. I have more than enough food to nourish me, shelter to protect me from the elements, and people whose priority is to love me rather than take advantage of me. I have the ability to work a job and provide for my children, and I have the right to speak what I believe to be true. Most importantly, though, I know You. I have been told of your love, and I have been taught your word. I am able to worship you with no fear, and your Word is not forbidden in my hands. I have more things to be thankful for than I could list, and I'm choosing to pause right now and simply say thank you. Thank you, Lord, for material provisions and tangible gifts. Thank you for people whose aim is to protect and cherish me. Thank you, Jesus, that I know your name and have experienced your grace. In all of my days, God, let thanks be forever on my lips, and let praise be forever in my heart."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Solely Yours

For the next two days of our 21 day journey in setting ourselves apart for Christ, I'll be sharing prayers we can ask individually and corporately. Today's will be a prayer of confession.

Today's Prayer: Lord, I confess my selfishness. I am more inwardly focused than I am focused on you, and my perspective always determines my actions. When I think about myself and what I want, I fail to see the life you are asking me to live and the actions you are wanting me to make. I confess my wrong attitude and my resentment when things don't go my way. I confess my pure laziness, spending time on myself when there are so many around me who need my help. I confess my desires for things of this world other than your Word, and I confess that I make it seem like there's just not enough time. I admit that I often care about what others think of me instead of whether I'm pleasing you, and I confess that I live too closely to the world rather than clinging to you. Lord, before my behaviors can change, my heart must. Soften me, God. Make my heart solely yours."

Saturday, September 5, 2015

When I Consider

For the next three days of our 21 day journey in setting ourselves apart for Christ, I'll be sharing prayers we can ask individually and corporately. Today's will be a prayer of adoration.

Today's Prayer: "Lord, I rarely stop just to tell you thank you for your work in my life. Sadly, too often I overlook it because I'm so accustomed to it. I have somehow let the presence of the Maker of the Universe become commonplace, and I'm so sorry for that. So today, God, I just want to praise you. You have been the one constant in my ever-changing life, and I can look back to moment after moment that you have orchestrated to be for my own good and the good of your kingdom. I am in awe when I stop and consider - meditate on - how you have worked. It's unbelievable that you love me, are jealous for me, and make plans for me. When I feel insignificant and unimportant, all I have to do is remember that the One who knew me before I was born knows me now and loves me still. You are all I need, and I can say that with confidence because there have been times you were all I had. Stop me in the ordinary moments, God, and remind me of your amazing presence in them. Every day of my life, you have been in control, and as my days continue, I pray that my eyes will be open to seeing and trusting all you will do."

Like my AMAZING, awesome, sweet, and adorable friends, My family that loves and cares for me, My awesome youth pastor and his wife, for being placed in a strong, christian home, and most of all for Jesus' HUGE sacrifice for me on the cross.:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Do This in Remembrance

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Today continues"setting yourself apart by..."

It's impossible to look back on my life and find a time when God abandoned me. 

Yes, there have been times when I felt alone, wondering why I couldn't feel God's presence, but in each of those cases I can look back and make sense of why I couldn't sense Him.

To set yourself apart for the glory of your Maker, remember who God has been and what He has done. His work in your past is a promise of His work in your future. God is always the same, and He makes this promise: "I the Lord do not change" (Malachi 3:6). 

When you're struggling to trust what will be, remember what has been. When it's hard to believe God will bring good, look back to the good He has brought. When your future seems in doubt, your past can remind you of His providence. | I choose to remember what God has done because it frames my perspective for why I wait for what he will do. | Embrace your own story #quote: | I choose to remember what God has done because it frames my perspective for why I wait for what he will do. | Embrace your own story #quote
Today's Prayer: "Lord, in every circumstance of my life, You have been there. Your presence goes before me, and though I can't see the way, I can trust you are there in it. You have been faithful throughout my life, so when I'm tempted to doubt your future provision, bring to mind your past care. I know You are for me and not against me, so whenever my emotions cloud my view of You, clear the fog and help me trust."

Thursday, September 3, 2015

His Word Goes Out

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Today continues"setting yourself apart by..."

There is nothing more worthwhile than investing time in learning Scripture. It takes discipline and determined effort, but memorizing God's truths will yield results for the rest of your life.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been in the middle of a struggle and God has brought to mind a verse I memorized years before. With no effort after the initial memorization, I'm given comfort and assurance when I most need it. God says in Isaiah that when His word goes out, "it always produces fruit." I've seen it for myself.

Post your #PrayerRequest on Download the free prayer app. #Pray with the world -----> Post your #PrayerRequest on Download the free prayer app. #Pray with the world ----->

If you're not sure how to go about committing Scripture to memory, there are some very practical steps you can take.

One method that has worked for me is write a verse on an index card and post it somewhere you will see it multiple times a day. I had Psalm 91:1 on my vanity mirror years ago, and to this day I remember the words "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty."

I've also carried around a small spiral-bound set of index cards with my memory verses on them and pulled it out when there were spare minutes.

You can even set a verse to be the lock screen on your phone.

Whatever method you use, Scripture memory is a spiritual discipline that truly makes a difference for you. You will be telling yourself divine truth throughout the day, and in future hardships, God will remind you of it. 

Today's Prayer: "Lord, give us an insatiable desire to know what You have said. Let us not rely on what we hear from the mouths of others but meditate on what came from your heart. Give us the discipline and desire to dedicate our minds to You."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Steeped in Truth

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Today begins "setting yourself apart by..."

Setting yourself apart as one who is fully devoted to God requires something so obvious you might not even think of it.

To be set apart for Him, you have to know Him.

I don't mean knowing with your brain the things you've heard about Him or even knowing Him as your Savior. To be devoted wholeheartedly, you have to understand His character - who He is at His core.

Without an understanding of God's character, you will find yourself wondering if He really loves you, if His plans really are good, if this faith thing really is worth it. But once you know Him, you know those things. Once you know who He is, you know how He'll act. No, you might not be able to tell what's coming or what He will allow into your life, but you'll know that everything is for good. You'll trust that everything comes from love. And sometimes knowing is half the battle.

Jeremiah 32:17 ~ There is nothing too hard for You: Jeremiah 32:17 ~ There is nothing too hard for You

A.W. Tozer said, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

When you think about God, what do you think? Who do you imagine?

Do you envision God as a divine judge with a gavel, condemning you for every mistake?

Do you picture Him as a disapproving father for whom nothing is ever good enough?

Do you think that because He knows it all, He rejects you for your ways?

Too often, we paint our pictures of God with the brushstrokes of humanity, giving Him human failures and frailties. We associate him with humans who have failed us, and we cast Him in the light of those we can see.

God cannot be limited by our finite understanding.

He is only good when humans are often bad.

He is only loving when humans often hate.

He is always patient when humans hurry.

God is not a human, and to set yourself apart for Him, you have to understand that. You have to read what His word says about Him, and you have to commit those words to the deepest parts of yourself.

To be set apart you must be steeped in truth.

Today's Prayer: "Lord, I repent of all the times I have held a wrong view of you, limiting your omniscience to the power of a man. You say that nothing is too hard for you (Jeremiah 32:27), yet I question whether you can act on my behalf. Even more, I question whether you will. Remind me that your always loving nature remembers me and will never forsake me. God, show me more of who you really are. Erase my wrong notions and replace them with truth."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

For Such a Time

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Today continues the theme of "setting yourself apart because..."

You were created to exist in this very moment.

There is nothing accidental about who you are, and there is no mistake in where you are. Every aspect of your life is working together as part of Christ's divine plan. Even the parts of your life you wish could be changed are serving a God-ordained purpose. 

the NKJV is slightly different, but it does still give the same message of God calling us into certain situations.: the NKJV is slightly different, but it does still give the same message of God calling us into certain situations.

Your purpose in God's kingdom is why you are to set yourself apart. Because of God's great desires to work in you, Satan has great plans to attack you. Without deliberate action on your part to pursue Christ and his ways, you will fall prey to Satan's ploys and his ways. It is only through setting yourself apart that you can withstand, and it is only through setting yourself apart you can understand.

No one accidentally falls into a godly lifestyle, and no one accidentally becomes righteous. Choosing to seek God's face - deliberately - is the next step for all believers, no matter where and what they are.

Today's Prayer: "Lord, today we say your words back to you and claim them for ourselves.  'My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" Your face, LORD, I will seek.' (Psalm 27:8). In all parts of our lives, it is our desire to see you. It is our need to hear you, and it is our hope to find you. May you find us faithful in relentless pursuit of you."

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Wretch Like Me

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Yesterday began a three-day series in "setting yourself apart because of..." 

I really am a miserable human being.

Every single day, I behave selfishly. I put my own needs before others, and I look out for my own comfort more than the legitimate needs of those around me.

I covet and am jealous, am impatient and unkind, and want what suits me rather than what builds Christ's church.

I am a wretch. 

It's only when we stop to consider how undeserving we are that grace truly begins to look amazing.

God's AMAZING GRACE!!! It is also HIS power to intervene for us, protect us, heal us, restore, bless, etc. HIS power is unlimited, and unfailing.

Grace, according to one source, is God's gift to us that is "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved" (The New Dictionary of Theology).

Not one of us humans would deliberately set out to give good things to people who have cursed us and rejected us. We would never desire to spend time with those who mock us or show spite in the face of kindness. We just wouldn't - but Christ did.

You and I have, in our sin, rejected Christ. We have behaved wretchedly to the One who only loved us, and we deserve to have Him turn his back on us and leave us without hope. 

We deserve damnation, but because of grace, that totally unexpected and undeserved gift, we have a hope and a future.

Because of grace, we are free from sin's shackles.

Because of grace, we have seen His glory.

Because of grace, we have been saved.

Amazing grace, indeed.

Today's Prayer: "Father, I confess to you my innate wickedness. There is nothing good in me, and even my good deeds are like filthy rags. The only hope I have is your spirit in me, so I beg you today to fill my emptiness with more of you. Remind me often of my true condition and help me see the wonder that your grace really is. Not only that, but help me to share its wonder with those who don't know! Grace like this must be shared, and I pray that I will be a testimony in all I say and do."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Because of Love

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Yesterday was "despite your lack of knowledge," or to read from the beginning, click here. Today begins a three-day series in "setting yourself because of..." 

Fasting is making me hungry. 

Duh, I know, but deliberately going without so many of the foods I normally eat is making my stomach growl, and as more time passes, it's also making it harder to do what I normally do. Yesterday at the gym, running three miles was much more taxing on me than it normally is. (If I've learned anything from watching that crazy show Naked and Afraid, it's that we need protein. And that I'm so grateful we wear clothes.)

Fasting doesn't make me super-spiritual. Disciplining myself with what I eat doesn't make my physical body any less hungry, and today it didn't even make me crave those cookies at Ingle's any less. 

Why, then, do I do it? If it's not a magic portal into a more spiritual realm, why am I denying myself? What's the big deal?

It's this: when I purpose to detach myself from the world, I am making room to attach myself to God. 

Every time a hunger pain or craving hits, I am prompted to pray when I otherwise might not be. My denial of myself sets up more opportunities to worship Him. I fast to show my love to the One who first loved me.

...amazing love be unto Christ...And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said unto them," Receive ye the Holy Spirit;" John 20:22
There is nothing magical about fasting, but we do it because of the all-consuming love that was shown to us. We fast so we will be more consumed with God than the things that so easily distract us. 

Our enemy wants us to forget the enormity of the sacrifice Christ made. He wants us to forget the beatings, the public execution, the spear in the side and the hanging on the cross. When we do, it's easier for our faith to appear burdensome and for us to make light of the grace we were shown. 

This is why we fast, so that through our small sacrifices we are reminded of His. It's only because of love that we live, and it's only because of love we have hope. May we all check our motives today and ensure that whatever we've given up, our motivation is love.

Today's Prayer: "Lord, remind us of the greatness of your love for us. It's so easy to listen to the shouts of the world that bemoan and mock your existence, but we pray for ears to hear your still, small voice whispering love. We ask you not to ease the pangs we feel from our fasts but if anything, to strengthen them. Let every pain we feel remind us of the pain you endured on our behalf. Let our sacrifices only serve to remind us of yours, motivated only by the purest love."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I'm Not a Smart Man

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Yesterday was "despite your failures," and today is "despite your lack of knowledge."

Jesus doesn't need you to be a scholar.

It's intimidating, sometimes, to navigate the world of Christianity. With words like exegesis and justification and substitutionary atonement floating around, it can be understandably easy to get confused and feel, well, dumb.

10 Words That You’ve Probably Been Misusing (As a former editor, I have to say this is a really good list.)
There are more books than you could ever read lining Christian bookstore shelves, and you may feel like you need a degree in theology to understand just what it is you believe.

The good news is you don't.

You don't have to understand the nuances of Christian doctrine to follow Christ. You just have to believe. 

You don't have to be able to define the terms to follow Christ. You just have to follow. 

You don't have to be an expert. You just have to be you, devoted to Him.

Today's Prayer: "Lord, you tell us to come to you like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. In a world where we're constantly confronted by all we don't know, it can be hard to have the faith of a child, because we think we should have the knowledge of a scholar. While it is a privilege to have access to scholarly books and unlimited knowledge, sometimes we need to forget all the facts and just focus on you. Let us never be tempted to worship what we know instead of Who we know."

Friday, August 28, 2015

Perfectly Weak

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Yesterday was "despite a lack of time," and today is "despite your failures."

Call me a classic perfectionist. 

My whole life, I've wanted to do things right. Not just right, but perfectly. Better than anyone else. I've had a need - a compulsion, really - to excel. So for someone like me, not being excellent is more than just an inconvenience. It's a nightmare.

Messing up comes with being human, though. No matter how hard we work or how much effort we give, we will fall short - and sometimes fall on our faces. It's true in our jobs, our parenting, our marriages, and even our walks with the Lord. Failures happen. We mess up. 

Inspirational Quotes Of The Week | #inspiration #levo
When we look in the mirror and see nothing but mistakes, God sees righteousness. He sees the blood of His son covering all of our shortcomings, and He doesn't write us off. He doesn't have a supernatural scorecard where He rates us like we rate ourselves. Our failures don't disqualify us from being His children. Rather, our weaknesses are opportunities for His grace. His "power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:19).

Grace is never an excuse for giving less than your all, but failure is never an excuse for giving up. 

Regardless of what mistakes you made this week, God is making you new. Rest in the knowledge that you - because you are His - are enough.

Today's Prayer: "I could list way after way I have failed this week. I have failed you, I have failed my family, I have failed myself. But Lord, you promise that you will never leave me, so I need your presence in those failures. I need you because of them and through them. Remind me that I am not the sum of my mistakes, and that no matter what, you take great delight in me. Rejoice over me with your singing, Lord, and let my soul hear the tune."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Before All the Rest

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Today is day 3 of "Setting Ourselves Apart IN..." Day 1 was in workday 2 was in words, and day 3 was in relationships. Today begins "Setting Ourselves Apart Despite...", and it's a doozy - despite a lack of time.

This week, my calendar and my to-do list have combined forces and renamed themselves "Can We Break Her."

They're pretty close.

Funny to do list.  nap, nap, nap.  Gift for someone who loves to sleep.

Honestly, I can only remember one other season of my life where I felt this much pressure. I don't know why, but there are a zillion things I must do and far fewer than a zillion minutes in which to do them. And I'm not talking about getting my nails painted or a new novel read. I'm talking about things that really matter. Things that must be done or else.

Last night I did 4.5 hours of work after work. It's not a complaint, just a fact. I am overwhelmed and under-resourced. And I'm confident I'm not the only one who feels this way, bearing a load that seems unbearable.

Our time is spoken for, and often we're not the ones speaking for it. When that's the case, what do we do? We speak to the Time-Maker. We relinquish our schedules and lists and back-breaking burdens to the only One capable of making it all work.

The truth is that unless we make time for God before all the rest AND in all the rest, then the rest will consume and debilitate us. He might not take the to-do's away, and you might not get that nap, but He will give you rest. He says to His children, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). In the rest of what you have to do, He will be your rest. He says that his yoke is easy and his burden light. Don't we all want - and desperately need - that?

Today, in it all, invite Him in. Ask Him to be your portion, because He will never run out.

Today's Prayer: "Jesus, we are tired. Our lists keep growing, and our time keeps ticking, and we just don't know what to do. Show us what matters, help us subtract the unimportant, and remind us that in it all You will provide what we need. We seek Your face before the rest, and we ask you to give us rest."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Just Plain Hard

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Today is day 3 of "Setting Ourselves Apart IN..." Day 1 was in work and day 2 was in words.

It's taken me a long time to come to grips with the fact that relationships are just plain hard.

Humorous love quips from someecards. Saving these doe when I have time to craft again.

We all have bonds with people who are different than we are, and sometimes those differences cause conflicts that seem insurmountable. That doesn't mean that relating to people who are like us is any easier, though. We can share common interests, work, and even a common faith and still run into trouble.

When was the last time you saw your relationships as a way to worship? A way to glorify the God you profess?

Truthfully, it's hard for me to answer that question. Too often, I see my relationships as a way to get something for myself - a way to bring myself satisfaction rather than a way to serve. But God's plan for the way we relate to others is so much more, and, of course, so much better.

Like it or not, our relationships with people reflect our relationship with God.

If I were to list words describing how I've treated others just this week, it would look something like this:







Those words don't just describe my behavior. They describe me. My actions reveal my heart, and my relationships are the truest test of my real character.

When God's Word says things like, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love," (Eph. 4:2), I am convicted to my core. My failure to do these things is a failure to obey my Lord.

My failure to treat the people bearing God's image as image-bearers is a message to the watching world, and it's not the message I want them to see. It's not the presentation of a gospel-changed life that they need.

Not only do I hurt other people in this way, but also God Himself. He grieves both for the people I hurt and for me. His plan for me involves growth in righteousness, and when I behave selfishly and rudely, righteousness could not be farther away.

Right treatment of others is worship to God, plain and simple. May we choose - daily - to let our relationships reflect His love.

Today's Prayer: "Father, it is so easy to take our frustrations out on people, both those we know and those we don't. Before we react, help us reflect. Before we speak, help us stop. Before we lash out, help us listen. Our own determination won't be enough. We need Your Spirit in us to do what we can't."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Words That Wound or Worship

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Today is day 2 of "Setting Ourselves Apart IN..." Day 1 was work

As soon as they left my lips, my words hit their target. The heart of a person I love.

I was tired and frustrated, and to be honest, I just needed my husband to understand me. I needed him to see that I was at the end of myself, unable to take on anything else and desperately in need of rest.

I'm Sorry For What I Said When I Was Tired by ResilienceStreetwear Womens Girls Fashion

Instead, he saw that I lack self-control. He heard that I can't control my tongue. He felt that my own feelings took precedence over his. 

In that moment, my words revealed my heart, and my heart was vile. Luke 6:45 says, "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."

That day, there was no denying that my heart was full of evil. It flowed freely from my mouth and hurt the one I love most. 

Our words have power that we often fail to understand. Proverbs 18:21 says, in the New Living Translation, "The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences."

Every time I speak words not filled with love or seasoned with grace, I speak death into both the people and situations around me. I might be killing the spirit of a child whose confidence hinges on my words, or I might be inviting the fallen angel himself into my marriage. My words have power that should cause me to tremble.

Words are a tool given us to express the inexpressible. Words allow us to expose our hearts, for good or evil, and to share the deepest parts of ourselves with those who most need to understand.

What we choose to share in words reveals who we really are at heart.

Today's prayer: "Lord, I beg forgiveness for every thoughtless word I've uttered. So often, my words are just the overflow of a heart not submitted to you, and as a result, my words wound. I hurt those I love, and I damage the witness you have asked me to give. Today, as I purpose to set myself apart for you, I ask you to change my heart. Soften it and sensitize it. Then, Lord, as I speak, let only words of praise, encouragement, and grace come from me."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday Again...

For each of of the next 21 days, I will be sharing specific ways believers can set themselves apart for Christ through prayer, fasting, and intentional focus. Today is day 1 of "Setting Ourselves Apart IN..." 


The start of the week, and the start (restart?) of the stress.

Alarms, to-do lists, traffic, demands. 

Mondays are just hard.

.The only thing I like less than Monday morning is Sunday night. I know...

Sundays at church, I feel on top of the world. I raise my hands in worship and get together with my people, and I feel like I can do anything. The coming week looks like a rose-colored world of possibilities, and I gaze with optimism at the days to come. I just know that I'm meant to make a difference come Monday morning.

Then Sunday night comes, and I get that Sunday night feeling. You know the one - the nagging sadness that the weekend is over and that the work week with all of its, well, work, is coming. 

And then, Monday morning. Back to the grind, back to the work.

It's so easy to walk into the work world on Monday morning and forget that Sunday ever happened. There's no worship music blaring in the office to keep your spirit focused, and often there's no time to stop and think that Jesus is right there in your midst. American culture demands the American work ethic, and the American work ethic means that even stopping to go to the bathroom is a luxury. Nonstop work means nonstop distraction, and without purposeful pauses, we can work ourselves away from the presence of Christ. 

Today, whether you're beginning or ending your Monday, the challenge is this: set yourself apart for the Lord even in - especially in - your work. Your work is not a terrible requirement; it is a divine appointment. It may not be what you desire, and it may not be what you enjoy. There are seasons for all of us where work is just hard. But you are there because God ordained it, and in it, there is purpose. The Westminster Catechism states, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Your purpose - in everything, even work - is to bring glory to your Maker and Savior. 

Today's Prayer: "Father, we praise you on this Monday for the gift of work. We repent of our complaints and grumbling, and we ask you to reset our minds to see that our work is an everyday possibility for fellowship and light-sharing. You have given us each a circle to influence, and when we allow the enemy to distract us from the needs and hurts in our circles, we fail to carry Your grace to those who need it. Give us a new sense of purpose, strengthen our weaknesses in our work, and help our hands work to give You all glory."

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." Colossians 3:23-24

Sunday, August 23, 2015

21 Days

Tomorrow morning, I will begin a 21 day fast along with other members of my church. We are choosing to abstain from something (food, social media, etc) in order to set ourselves apart and purposely pursue God.

For each of the next 21 days, I will be posting about the fast and 21 different ways in which we as believers can set ourselves apart. (I will be doing the Daniel Fast, in case you're curious or need a place to start.)

I invite you to join us and deliberately walk away from something that draws your heart, time, and attention away from God. We're believing the Lord will do amazing things through our decisions to focus solely on Him. We'd love to have you join us!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tuesday's Takeaway - Identity Crisis

I sometimes lie in church.

I don't mean to, but words come out of my mouth that aren't true. I sing lyrics during worship like "I'm giving it all away..." and "We surrender all to you."


Some days - most days - that's just not true. I want it to be. Really, I do. I want to relinquish all of my thoughts, worries, and decisions into the hands of the One who sees what I can't and knows what I don't.

But many days - most days - I don't. I hold tightly to what constitutes my life because I believe my grip equals my control. I don't give over my all, and sometimes I don't even give over my most. 

Which parts of all are you not letting God have? Which parts of yourself are you giving to the enemy, either intentionally or not?

Don't skip over those questions, looking ahead for a solution. There is no solution without reflection. Read them again.

Which parts of all are you not letting God have? Which parts of yourself are you giving to the enemy, either intentionally or not?

Is it your physical health? Your marriage? Your dissatisfaction at work? Your money?

In all likelihood, your struggles reveal your stubbornness. Your stubbornness reveals strongholds, and strongholds are chains the enemy uses to bind you into ineffectiveness and wandering. A wandering believer will never accidentally stumble into her true identity, and then Satan's work is complete.

Here's the issue. As Pastor Mark said this Sunday, "It's impossible to deny your Creator and know your identity." When we don't know our identities, we don't - and can't - give Jesus our all. It's as simple as that. We can sing it on Sunday and never live it. We can proclaim it with words and never show it with actions. It is impossible to give your all when you don't know what your all consists of and to whom it belongs. When we aren't rooted in Christ and don't fully understand that we are His creations, we live in the midst of an identity crisis - one that keeps us gripping tightly to what was never really ours.

Don't miss this - you can deny your Creator while very loudly acknowledging Him with your mouth. Denial is not just evident in words; denial is evident in lifestyle.

John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Satan - the enemy - is out to steal your identity as the righteousness of God. He cannot take it for himself, but he wants to steal your assurance that you are a child of God who does not have to perform to please the Father. He wants to steal the peace that is available when God's children fully rest in knowing whose they are. When Satan succeeds in stealing our identities, he leaves us with confusion and a lack of power. He leaves us making no difference in the Kingdom of God.

The challenge I'm facing right now is to honestly answer the question, "What am I holding back from God?" Whatever we withhold from Him is whatever we don't trust Him with, and whatever we don't trust Him with reveals what we don't fully understand of His character. We must learn the character of the One whose identity has become our own. We must uncover what we're holding back before we can ever sing with conviction that we're surrendering all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wordy Wednesday - I Need a 2nd Job for My Book Habit...

Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected about Being a Mom by Lisa-Jo Baker

I love books that make me underline thoughts. I adore books that make me cry. When I'm underlining as I cry, I know I've hit the mother lode.

Lisa-Jo Baker was a speaker at a conference I recently attended, and while I knew of her, I had never read her book Surprised by Motherhood. The conference was selling copies, so I bought one - and consumed it in a day.

Throughout the book, Baker traces her journey to motherhood (which she never thought she'd take) and recounts hilarious and poignant stories of mothering. She also writes of her own mother who died when Baker was still a teenager and how her experiences without a mother have shaped her as an adult.

If you have children, you need to read this book. She writes about how " continue to labor long after the baby is born," and I'm not sure truer words have ever been typed. This passage, I adore: "There is no part of our everyday, wash-and-repeat routine of kids and laundry and life and fights and worries and playdates and aching budgets and preschool orientations and work and marriage and love and new life and bedtime marathons that Jesus doesn't look deep into and say, 'That is Mine.'" What a great reminder!

Click here to purchase from Amazon

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire & Finding the Broken Way Home by Amber C. Haines

This book is one I happened to stumble on, and it is excruciatingly honest and beautifully written. Holding nothing back, Haines (a writer I was not already familiar with) describes her wanderings in her youth, looking to drugs, fun, and sex for answers. She also writes of her dramatic conversion and hard-fought faith. Her book reads like poetry, so I'll just leave you with her words.

"What I remember of that rebellion is that so many of us never had a space to work through difficult circumstances. There was no open culture to discuss pain or injustice. For many families, God was the answer, and he was a God who thought up good youth group T-shirt slogans, who said, "If you just believe hard enough, you'll not suffer anymore." Look around at the cinder-block houses and the kids whose feet grow holes in their shoes. Look around at the beautiful clothes on the girl whose daddy finds her at night. The God of the bumper stickers doesn't add up here.

"So much hammered doctrine was an effort to control, as if it were our own job to uphold the morality standards of Jesus for the world, rather than to be embodied by the actual Spirit of the living God."

Click here to purchase from Amazon
"I whitewashed my story and lived like beauty was the point, to be unbroken."

"Know that when you meet someone working hard to be outwardly beautiful and fit for consumption, inside they may be wasting away."

I would not say that this is an easy book to read, but it is lovely. Sometimes I just needed to put the book to the side and digest what she was saying, perhaps wrestling with my own thoughts a bit. So many truths spoke directly to my heart, and that's the value of this book. Her story is very different from my own, yet it was eerily familiar.

So there you have it - two more great books that are worth the time and money. Happy reading!