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!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday's Takeaway: From Safe to Crazy

When was the last time your faith was anything more than ordinary?

This Sunday, Pastor Dean of 5 Point Church challenged me by showing me myself - an American Christian whose faith is often not obvious to those around me and often not bold enough to believe God for something crazy.

We use the word "crazy" to identify people who appear absurdly out of place: the teenager with rainbow colored hair, the person whose outfits do not meet "acceptable fashion,' people who say things no one else would utter. "Crazy" really should describe anyone who follows Christ. When we trust and follow Him, our citizenship belongs to heaven, and as a result, we are aliens and strangers in this world. We should appear crazy because we are no longer of this world. Our behavior should be obviously different from everyone else's. We should stand out, but far too many of us are consumed with anything other than Jesus.

Crazy faith is what I say with my mouth that I want, but it is something I rarely step into. I realized Sunday that I rarely do anything that requires crazy faith because I am afraid. I am afraid of what people will think, afraid that maybe I'm just acting selfishly, afraid that God really won't come through... Fear cancels out faith. I've seen it in my own life, and I've seen it in others'.

When Jesus' disciples could not drive demons out of a young boy in Matthew 17, Jesus clearly said it was because they had so little faith. Do we believe God or just believe in God? There's a huge difference, the difference between faith that changes nothing and faith that changes everything.

Here's the challenge - examine your life and what it is you need to believe God for. What circumstances hinge on your ability to believe, and what fears are you allowing to suppress the faith God wants you to have? God is honored by our bold prayers and crazy faith, and He is waiting on us to step out and just believe Him. Believe He is good, believe He hears you, and let nothing alter that belief. We will be amazed what happens when we have the faith of a mustard seed. The mountains in our lives will move, and we'll never be the same.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Trump, Women, and Me

Fat pigs.



Disgusting animals.

These are some of the names that a man who desires to lead our country has called women. As he was asked about it, there were boisterous laughs and cheers from the crowd as he made it into a joke. There were more cheers when his answer was that a big problem in this country is being "politically correct."

It's the year 2015, and a Presidential candidate - in the United States in 2015 - suggests that it's acceptable to use these names for women because he doesn't have time for "total political correctness." Sure, because it takes a lot of time to be respectful to other human beings, and it's only about political correctness.

He said during the debate, "What I say is what I say, and honestly... if you don't like it, I'm sorry."

Well, I don't like it, Mr. Trump, and neither do the millions of women who have been called such names and live today trying to forget how it made them feel. You said it was fun and kidding, "having a good time." So you'd be ok with a man laughingly saying that your daughters and wife are fat pigs? You'd let someone call your little girl a disgusting animal? Somehow, I think not.

The bottom line here is that in so many ways in our society, females simply are not respected as valuable human beings. We are seen as inferior, treated as unintelligent, and given value only for sexual appeal.

Look, I know that I am not the names I have been called - and I have been called several. I know that I have more worth than my looks. But to be looked down on, critiqued, and publicly shamed in large part because of one's gender is simply unacceptable.

I feel confident that Mr. Trump does not represent the majority of men in this country, thank goodness. But the sad truth is that he represents many, and judging by the laughs he received during this exchange, the issue isn't taken seriously by many more. Powerful men berating women. Is this seriously ok?

Further, are we as a society willing to overlook a Presidential candidate's lack of self-control in the words he uses? It's not a matter of time to be politically correct; it's an issue of self-control. It's an issue of respect. It's an issue of dignity. It's an issue in the inherent lack of equality given to females. It's an issue, all right, and it's one that needs to be taken head-on and unapologetically.

I couldn't care less who you vote for and who you don't. What I do care about is women standing alongside men saying, "We won't stand for this. We won't laugh when any human is berated and treated as less-than, and we certainly won't accept it from anyone in leadership."

We're better than this, America. It's time we prove it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What Running Reveals about Life

I've run 84 miles in the last 17 days (no, I'm not training for anything in particular, and yes, I've just wanted to), and those long runs have taught me some valuable lessons. First, if running in the South Carolina summer, try to run in the morning before the heat and humidity make you feel like this.

Second, invest in good running shoes. Third, no matter how good your running shoes are, your feet will still hurt after 84 miles.

More than those lessons, though, I have come to realize that what you experience on a long run is a metaphor for what you experience in life. Here's why.
  • When you first set out on your adventure, everything seems good. Your playlist is set, your legs are fresh, and you feel like a gazelle bounding through the morning mist. But as the miles go on, you realize your sock is crooked, the tag in your shorts is slowly driving you mad, and the hitch in your right hip isn't getting any better. In other words, the Utopian picture you painted in your head isn't your reality, and you just have to slog through the miles. Sometimes, slogging is all you can do. Slogging is good. Stopping isn't.
  • There will be poop. At some point, you will see it, smell it, or heaven forbid, step in it. Poop is out there, and one day you will be its victim. You can't always avoid it, and sometimes the only thing you can do is wipe it off and keep on going. Poop happens. It's all about how you respond to it.
  • You will find yourself judging the yards of the houses you run past. Your critical eye will see the tall grass and weed-ridden flower beds, and you will wonder how the occupants seem not to care about lawn maintenance. And then you will run up your own driveway and see the weeds growing with great freedom in your own flower beds. So you will repent. (And probably repeat the pattern the next day.) Judge not lest ye be judged.
  • Not everyone will wave back at you. Not every car will move over to give you room. Sometimes, you will have to jump into the bushes because drivers are staring at their phones instead of the road. So, yeah, other people can be irritating and not very nice. True on a run; true in real life. Wave to them anyway, and when they run you off the road, refrain from making hand gestures or trying to chase them down. Take Elsa's advice and let it go.
  • Minor irritations will give you blisters. No matter how well you protect your feet, they will betray you. A runner's feet are a sight to behold. Bulging blisters and black toenails - no one can say we runners don't take our sport seriously. Until you lose part of your phalanges to repeated pressure, you're not hard-core enough. (I'm not sure of the metaphor here. Work until your toenails fall off? Sure. We'll go with that. Oh wait - I think it was more about minor irritations. Don't let them be the cause of your blisters.)
  • You will become calloused. Repetitive friction has given many runners ugly callouses, and life can do the same to your heart. Whenever there is constant pressure, a callous can form. While intended to provide protection, callouses that continue to grow can also cause pain. Callouses in our hearts can prevent us from feeling what we need to feel. Don't let the callouses of life cut off your feeling. Feel all the feelings. 
  • You will run past parties you weren't invited to. You will hear their laughter over the fence and smell their barbecues wafting through the air, and you will be sad. You will want to be there, at the party, and you won't be. The lesson is that sometimes you will be on the other side of the fence - and you need to be ok with that. Keep running and plan your own party.
  • You will be tempted to judge people by their garbage. Piled by the curb, overflowing the massive green cans, garbage will be on display. You will see people's food waste and evidence of their purchases, and you will be tempted to create stories in your mind. Don't do this. Their garbage is no different from yours - it's just visible. We all have garbage, and none of us want to be judged by it. You will also see trash on the ground as you run past, and you will leave it there because you think it's not your problem. You might not have created it, but that doesn't mean you can't help clean it up.
  • Sometimes, when you're at the farthest point of an out-and-back route, all you'll want is to be home already. A hard truth is that it might take being super far away to realize where you really want to be. Distance can be a great teacher. 
  • There will be days when you feel like the greatest runner ever to lace up running shoes. Your breathing will be in perfect harmony with your steps, and you will end your route thinking, "I could do that all over again!" Likewise, there will be days when you feel like a hippopotamus thundering down the road, and you will be thinking, "I cannot take another step." Don't let either extreme define you. Take them in stride and know that you'll be back somewhere in the middle soon.
  • Your pace doesn't always need to match the sound in your ears. Just because Lecrae is rapping a million words a minute doesn't mean you need to double-time it down the road. Likewise, Josh Groban's gentle crooning doesn't mean you need to slow to a crawl. The music of the world (get the analogy here?) will try to control your pace. Forget it. Listen to your breathing and heart rate, and you'll know the right pace for yourself.
  • And finally, running will teach you that you need to take some breaks. You can't run a million miles a day at a million miles an hour and not suffer some consequences. Your body needs your brain to be ok with taking a day off. Sleep in, go out with friends, read a book. Your time off will make your time training more effective. It will also make you remember that your run - and you - aren't the center of the universe. And when is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wordy Wednesday - Opposites Edition

This week’s books could not be any more opposite, but I love them equally. Both are nonfiction, my favorite genre, and while their topics are nothing alike, they both have such profound lessons that they are well worth your time and money. I recommend buying your own copies because you will want to highlight and underline something on every page!

Without further adieu, this week’s selections.

Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life by Michele Cushatt.

Click here to purchase from Amazon.
This book had me at the subtitle. I saw it recommended on social media, which is where I hear about a lot of what I choose to read, and from the minute the Amazon Prime fairy placed it in my mailbox, I was enamored. Both the story and the writing style are beautiful, and Cushatt will make you cry and silently whisper “Amen.”

The back cover says, “She never expected a devastating divorce and single motherhood. Or a second marriage marred by the challenges of a blended family. Undaunted, Michele worked hard to put her upside-down life back in order. Until, at the age of thirty-nine, she received a cancer diagnosis. And eight months later, she opened her near empty-nest home to three little ones in crisis. The resulting chaos proved far more than she could contain.”

Michele Cushatt’s life certainly became undone, and she has faced more unexpected hardships in a short period than the vast majority of people ever do. Yet she has not turned to bitter whining or faithless “why me’s?”. She has doggedly continued her pursuit of true intimacy with Christ, and this book is ripe with honesty. I guess that’s why I love it so much - it resonated.

My unexpected life did not involve a cancer diagnosis, but I cried as I read these words: “I’ve talked to countless other cancer survivors, of all extents and varieties. The one commonality we all share is the unexpected grief. Even when we’re given a good shot at a long life, even when we have great doctors and the hope of positive outcomes, we experience a deep and profound loss. Cancer is a thief, stealing what we didn’t even know we had until it was too late. The innocence is gone, replaced by an acute awareness of the dark flip side of life.”

Regardless of whether your life has included unexpected tragedies that changed everything, Michele has a word for you. Her greatest lessons are on faith, and this is one of my favorite quotes: “ in the middle of the unknowns is the only real kind.” Yes, and amen. Buy this book, and buy extra copies for those you love who are in the middle of life-changing hardships. They need its truth and hope.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Click here to purchase from Amazon.
Love. This. Book.

If you ever need to say anything that people should remember, this book is a must. Teachers, this should be required reading before you teach another child. Businessmen, pastors, speakers of any kind - you need this information.

Reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, this one is chock full of stories and unexpected trivia that will make you scratch your head and say, “Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?! How did I go 35 years without knowing that?”

I cannot tell you how many notes I made in the margins for myself to “try at school!”. The brothers Heath explain in detail what they call The Curse of Knowledge, which is basically when we become experts in something and forget what it’s like not to know it. (For example - try teaching a child to tie his shoes. Your patience slows to a trickle as you just can’t get how he doesn’t get it. The Curse of Knowledge.) This is what teachers are up against every single day. What is great about the book, though, is that you actually learn how to combat it. Practical knowledge is embedded in every chapter. For example, they talk in great length about the importance of being concrete in what you say and do. Forget being abstract - concreteness rules.

When a group called Beyond War was trying to raise public awareness of the reality of nuclear weapons in the Cold War, they wanted to make the statistics more concrete. So a leader began carrying a metal bucket to meetings. He would drop a single BB in, saying, “This is the Hiroshima bomb.” He would describe the devastation in detail. Then he’d drop in 10 BBs and say, “This is the firepower of the missiles on one U.S. or Soviet nuclear submarine.” As the book describes, “Finally, he asked the attendees to close their eyes. He’d say, ‘This is the world’s current arsenal of nuclear weapons.’ Then he poured 5,000 BBs in the bucket (one for every nuclear warhead in the world). The noise was startling, even terrifying. ‘The roar of the BBs went on and on… Afterwards there was always dead silence.’”

The statistics alone weren’t enough to provoke reaction. The concrete comparison to BBs was. Concreteness is just one of the qualities the Heath brothers say is necessary to make something memorable.

Throughout this brilliantly-written book, the authors get to the core of why we remember some things and don’t remember others. It’s because of what they call “sticky ideas,” which have 6 key qualities: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotional, and stories.

A fascinating read and practically useful resource, Made to Stick is a book for everyone.

So there you have it - two books I love and think you will, too. Do you have any books in particular you want me to review? Any specific questions? Let me know!


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday's Takeaway

Each week, I'll be writing about my takeaway from Sunday's sermon at 4 Points Church. Some weeks I will summarize, and some weeks I will focus on one main idea. This week, it's all about the pit and the palace. To view the sermon, visit this link.

There's a difference between believing in God and believing God. A huge difference, and for much of my life, I was stuck there.

Yes, I believed that God existed. I knew it and never doubted it. But I did - and sometimes still do - doubt Him. The Words He said and the Words He gave often feel like they're contradicting my life. Believing in God? I'm good. Believing all He says and all He promises? That's where I struggle. Does it make me unspiritual to say so? Oh well. Then I am.

His Word says, "...the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you" (Deut. 31:6). It's hard to believe that (and easy to doubt it) when everyone else has left and you can't feel God anywhere. Doubting it is easy because we try to fit Him into the mold that other people have made for us. People leave. People forsake. We doubt God because we believe He is like people. News flash - He isn't.

His Word says that his plans are to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future (Jer. 29:11). While this is ultimately true, it may not in the immediate appear that way. When Joseph's brothers threw him into the pit in Genesis and Potiphar's wife lied and caused his imprisonment, he suffered in prison and must have wondered how this was God's good plan to prosper him. How was this plan giving him a future? Here's how - without the pit and prison, he never would have been in a position to be elevated in Pharaoh's palace. The pit and prison were intermediary but necessary steps on the way to God's ultimate plan.

This is where we so often falter - "We get stuck in our circumstances because we forget God's already been where we're going" (Pastor Mark).

Our lives look like puzzles, and we become consumed looking at one tiny piece, forgetting there's a beautiful picture being made, albeit slowly. We look at the only pieces we can see, trying to understand how they fit - and trying to force them when we don't understand. As Pastor Mark reminded us, "You don't have to understand to trust God." There's such freedom in that statement. Trust frees us from trying to figure it all out. It reminds us that our loving and grace-giving God only has our ultimate good in mind, so we can release the pieces into His capable hands and just trust.

But here's the rub: we want the blessing from God, and we want it now. We want the pit and prison to quickly be removed and to be elevated to our palace. We look for it and demand it. But if God can't trust you in the pit and prison - the valley you are in - then He can't trust you with the blessing. Joseph's position in the palace would never have been his if he had turned his back on God in the prison. So often we try to climb our way out of the pit, thinking it was never God's plan for us to be there, while all the while He was trying to get our attention and make us palace-ready in it. Valleys build stamina for the mountaintops; pits prepare us for palaces. Sometimes the greatest act of faith is to stand still in the pit, lacking understanding, and say, "I will trust you here, and I will wait for your perfectly-timed deliverance."

No place you are is accidental; no valley is unplanned. Delivery is coming - your job is to allow your faith to be built and your heart to be prepared. Genesis 50:20 reminds us that the pits aren't permanent and that God's working in them all. "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done..." We might not be able to see what’s coming, but we can stand in assurance of Who is coming. The Deliverer whose plan is only for our good - both in the pit and in the palace.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Any Minute Now: A Reminder for Teachers

So, teacher. You're feeling anxious. And excited. And overwhelmed.

I get that.

Any minute now, you'll be facing a room of expectant young faces, and you're probably not sure if you can meet all the expectations. Let's get this out of the way up front - you can't.

You can't meet all of their expectations, or their parents', or your administrators'.

Most importantly, you won't be able to meet all of your own.

You just can't. You are one person, and one person can only do so much.

I know you. I know that this summer, you've seen ideas on Pinterest you've thought might be amazing in your room. I know you saw that sale at Office Max and stocked up on colored pencils and colored copy paper. As you were reading on the beach, you dog-eared passages that you want to share as beautiful examples of prose. The teacher in you might have slept later and might not have graded papers this summer, but you didn't stop being a teacher. You thought of what didn't work last year and what might be better this year, and you imagined what you could do to make a bigger difference.

In other words, you continued to build the mountain of expectations that sits on a teacher's shoulders. The mountain that, if not examined and realistically sifted through, can become a burden. The mountain that grows with every new piece of legislation and every new set of standards and every new piece of technology. The mountain that we want so badly to scale and daily feel like is growing.

So here's my humble advice to you who desires so badly to conquer the world in your classroom this year. (It's also my advice to myself.)

Keep the main thing the main thing. 

Details sometimes are the devil's playground, and in a classroom, details can overwhelm and consume you to the point you feel like all of your efforts are in vain.

They are not, and to be honest, some of the details we so intently consume ourselves with are unimportant. (Ouch, right? They are, some of them. Believe this perfectionist.  Some details are unimportant.) You cannot do it all, so you need to honestly assess what you can do. What you MUST do. You cannot - and must not - do it all.

I don't know the details of your curriculum, and I don't know the details of your students' lives. I don't know the exact pressures you feel, and I don't know your inner dialogue right now. What I do know is this: children will be sitting in your classroom very soon, and those children need you. Sure, they should know multiplication and mitosis, and I'm convinced cursive handwriting should be on that list, too. They should know a lot of the standards we teach, and they should know a lot that we don't. But what do they need? They need you.

They need an adult who cares and shows it. They need an adult who listens. They need an adult who sees that they're scared, and they need an adult to hear what they can't say. They need an adult who won't accept excuses, but they also need an adult who knows not every case is the same.

They need you. You might be feeling unqualified or under-trained, incompetent or ill-equipped. You might be feeling a whole heap of things we teachers feel, and you might be feeling like you'll fail before you begin.

I'll say it again. Keep the main thing the main thing.

The main thing is the hearts of those children who will be sitting in your classroom. Yes, the brain must be taught, but the brain won't learn if the heart isn't safe. Your task is to make it so (even if your job isn't). You went into this field because you wanted to make a difference. We all did. Yes, we love our content. But more than that, we need to love our kids.

I have a stack of things to do nearby, and I have a list a mile long. I have pressures I'm already putting on myself, and I have pressures I feel from outside. But I'm telling myself this before I tackle all of that: keep the main thing the main thing. Love those kids. Expect a lot. Listen a lot. Laugh a lot. The kids are the main thing. The details are secondary.