Quit Forcing It

Forcing things rarely works.

As a mom of three I’ve tried my hand a time or two at forcing things to happen.  Forced feedings when the kids were younger, as if that one last bite of green beans I shoved into their clenched mouths would somehow push them over the edge into the category of perfect health. Forced quiet time, which usually just resulted in me going into their rooms and reminding them over and over again to be quiet until they would fall dead asleep 5 minutes before we needed to be somewhere.  These days, I find myself forcing my middle child to shower, as though the shower itself is some sort of medieval torture chamber designed to inflict pain upon him.  I do not understand the physical aversion he has for clean water.

I’ve tried forcing my kids to quit fighting, to not pick their nose in public, to brush their teeth, to do their chores, to practice their instruments, the list goes on and on.  I’ve even tried to force fun within our family.  We will do this activity and it will be fun, understood?”

But, as many times as I’ve tried to use force to cause a change in my children’s actions, it’s rarely been successful long term.  Sometimes it works temporarily, but rarely does it stick.

I love the words in Matthew chapter 11 where Jesus asks the question “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?” (MSG)  Every time I read this I find myself answering with a resounding “Yes!”  I think every mom who reads those first two questions feels the same way.  Yes, we’re so very tired, we’re worn out!  But I love how Jesus sneaks that last question in there.  “Are you burned out on religion?”  Why is He following with this question? Because He knows that forcing things, just going through the motions without our hearts being truly connected to it, will never provide the outcome we’re looking for.  Just being religious will never give us the true rest and freedom our souls crave.  Jesus tells us in verse 28-30 “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.”  Have you ever heard anything more alluring in your entire life?

The verse goes on to say, “Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Just reading these words fills my heart with hope.

The freedom that Jesus offers us is found in the unforced rhythms of His grace.  It is found in His presence when we keep company with him.  It’s also something we have to learn; it’s not something that comes naturally.  Honestly, following rules and checking off boxes comes much more easily.  We like to say to ourselves, “There, all done.” while God is saying to us, “Here, just come.”

A prayer:  Father, help us to quit forcing things and to start living freely and lightly in Your unforced rhythms of grace. May we not look to religion to give us rest, but may we recover our lives as we live in relationship with you.  Thank you for Your promise that as we walk with You and work with You, You will show us how that looks.  Our hearts crave the real rest that only comes from You.

Mighty God Advent #9

The book of Isaiah is full of Mighty God descriptions.  The kind that paint a picture of the majesty and grandeur of the God we serve.  Isaiah recounts again and again the declarations that God makes regarding himself and his character.

“You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.”  Isaiah 43:10 (AMP)

He alone is our God and we are his witnesses.  

We can attest to God’s sovereignty and His faithfulness by our testimony, our personal story of what God has saved us from and how He has changed us.  If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have an incredible story to tell.  It is one of love and forgiveness, full of grace and mercy, new life and hope.

Stories can be an incredibly powerful tool.  When it comes to new products, one of the most compelling reasons to buy something is a shared story or experience from someone you know in real life.   I can know all about a product but usually won’t be persuaded to actually buy it until someone close to me shares a positive experience with it.  And then, I’m all in.  Often, their excitement will spread and I become a walking billboard for the product, a witness to its greatness.

The shepherds were the first real witnesses to Jesus.  In a sense, they became walking billboards for the Savior of the world.  Their experience couldn’t be kept to themselves because it was the most joyful news they had ever heard, and it was for everyone. After seeing for themselves, they told everyone they could. As word of mouth grew, people everywhere heard the good news.

Luke 2:15-18 says, “When this great army of angels had returned again to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on! Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  “They ran to the village and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherd’s story expressed astonishment.” (TLB)

The shepherds were all in. They heard a story, followed it to the source and then shared with anyone who would listen.  For those of us who have heard the good news and traced it back to Him, our job now becomes to share that good news with those around us.  Our lives act as a witness to the world that His story is an integral part of our own story.

We have an opportunity every day to be all in, but especially this advent season as we reflect on the birth of baby Jesus.  We have a story to tell of how the birth of a baby boy thousands of years ago set into motion a love story that would change our lives forever.  This week let’s ask God to use our words to astonish people with his love and let’s live our lives in a way that will bear witness to the mighty God we serve.

A prayer:  Father, we acknowledge that You alone are God.  There was no one before You, and there will be no one after You.  Give us an opportunity this week to share our story with somebody who needs to hear it.  We give you full access to our lives and to the stories You are still writing.  Give us the words to speak, that we might be witnesses to You, our Mighty God.  


O Come All Ye Messy Ponytails

The lyrics kept floating through my mind, burrowing a path into my soul.

O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. 

Could that include me?  I wish it did, but honestly, I feel more faithless than faithful at the moment.  Joyful and triumphant?  More like depressed and discouraged.  

The holiday season is upon us, and often it feels more overwhelming than we anticipated.  This magical time of the year that we sing about and celebrate is not exempt from heartache and pain.  Whether we are experiencing something difficult or we are carrying the burden of a friend or family member, these feelings seem more pronounced as we layer them over the backdrop of  holiday joy and cheer.

The absence of loved ones can make us feel acutely alone in a room full of people celebrating.  The loss and rejection we’ve experienced throughout the year come sneaking up behind us, trying to take both our joy and our breath away.

And now I have to be faithful, joyful and triumphant? Great, I’ll add that to the list somewhere between making Christmas cookies, buying teacher gifts, and cleaning my house for company.  It all just feels so exhausting!

But maybe we don’t have to have everything perfectly together before we come.  Maybe we don’t have to be faithful or joyful before we come to the feet of Jesus.  Perhaps the offer is extended to the exhausted and the weary as well as the triumphant.  Could it be that all He’s asking of us is just to come? Exactly as we are?

Come to Jesus with your brokenness and your burnt Christmas cookies.  Come to Him in your yoga pants, your old tattered college sweatshirt, your messy ponytail and day two of no shower.  Come with your sink full of dirty dishes and kids screaming and clamoring around you.  Come with your grief.  Come with your loss. Come with your mistakes.  Come to Him wherever you are with whatever you have.

It doesn’t matter how you come, just that you do.

Come behold Him.

Come adore Him.

Come worship Him.

And when we do, we discover that our simple act of obedience, our willingness to come to Jesus, changes everything.  Like an exchange system where we always come out ahead.  We come to Him just as we are, tired and weary, and He gives fresh perspective and renewed strength.  We bring our mistakes and our regrets and He brings His grace.  We come with our striving and He provides rest.

Don’t be afraid to come to Him today,  just as you are.  Bring your heart and let Jesus’ love transform you from the inside out.  Don’t worry about looking or feeling a certain way before you come–He already sees it all and knows it all.  Come to Him just as you are (messy ponytail and all) and you will find that He is faithful to meet you there.

A prayer:  Father, I pray that today we would enter into a holy exchange system with you.  We bring ourselves, and all the mess that comes with it, in exchange for more of You.  More of your love, patience, kindness and peace.  Thank you, Father, that we always come out ahead when we spend time in your presence.  Amen.  

Wonderful Counselor

When Aaron and I decided to get married, my parents did something pretty amazing.  They got us a pre-wedding gift.  It wasn’t anything wrapped up in paper and bows.  In fact, it was the kind of gift that caused a few tears and even a little tension between myself and my future mate.  They paid for pre-marital counseling.

When you first fall in love, it’s difficult to imagine ever being supremely disappointed in the other person or imagining that there might be an obstacle that you can’t overcome simply by staring into each other’s eyes.  This of course, is exactly why pre-marriage counseling exists.  To have another person, an outside party, ask you some hard questions and give you the tools you’ll need to prepare for the challenging, and also mundane, days that life will inevitably offer you.

When I think back to the weeks that Aaron and I sat together in a counselor’s office, answering difficult questions, discussing expectations, recounting the family atmosphere and parenting styles we had grown up in, I realize just how important that time and those conversations were.  There were things we shared with each other early on that we probably wouldn’t have offered up on our own.  We made decisions, declarations really, of what was going to be most important to us as a couple and what we were going to value.  We were coming together to strategically set the course for our marriage and, ultimately, for the rest of our lives.

Proverbs 11:14 says, “Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.” (MSG)

Honestly, who doesn’t want to better their chances?  We all do.  In our marriages, our friendships, our careers, our parenting, our faith journey, our lives, to flourish. 

Notice this verse says “Without good direction…”(emphasis mine).  We don’t just need direction.  We need good direction.  After all, the world is constantly offering up advice as to how we should spend our money, time & resources.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.  We don’t need direction from just anybody.  We need good direction & wise counsel. Christian counselors, pastors, and trusted friends are all great sources to receive wise counsel from BUT we have an even greater source to turn to.  We have the Holy Spirit, our ultimate counselor.  According to Isaiah chapter 9, one of God’s names is Wonderful Counselor.

In John, chapter 14:16-17, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit.  “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth.” Verse 26 says, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative–that is, the Holy Spirit–he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”  (NLT) 

Jesus is talking to his disciples in this chapter, preparing them for what is to come.  He knows that he is leaving them soon and that the gift of the Holy Spirit will come.  These verses show us three distinct ways that the Holy Spirit can help us. First, the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth.  Second, he will teach us.  And lastly, he will remind us of everything Jesus has spoken.

Romans 8:26 also says the Holy Spirit helps our weakness.  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit  himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  (NIV)

He is our wise counsel.  He leads us, teaches us, reminds us and helps in our weakness.

Psalm 73:24 says this, “You will keep on guiding me all my life with your wisdom and counsel.”

Let’s not be people who lose their way. Instead, let’s be people who purposefully determine to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom.  Today let’s spend a few minutes asking for His divine wisdom in our relationships.  May our marriages, families and friendships become strong and healthy as we trust God’s wise counsel.

A prayer:  Father, thank you for the wise counsel that the Holy Spirit gives.  Thank you that we have someone to turn to when we feel weak and need help.  The leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit is a supernatural gift that we are so thankful for.  May we learn to turn to you first when we are in need of wise counsel.  Amen. 



Stories By White Lights

One of our favorite holiday traditions is one that we stumbled upon without meaning to several years ago.

It was Thanksgiving weekend and we had just finished decorating our Christmas tree (a real one, none of this fake tree business) and I was exhausted from all the work entailed with lugging boxes out of storage and finding enough working white lights to cover an 8 ft. tree.  The kids were hungry and I didn’t have enough time or energy to prepare a real meal so I threw together a cheese & cracker plate.  I pulled out a few veggies and some dip and then warmed up some leftover frozen pizza rolls in the oven.  We had a bottle of Welch’s sparkling grape juice and all together, it made up our dinner that night.

The Christmas lights were twinkling and casting a beautiful golden glow in our living room that none of us wanted to miss. So instead of sitting at our dining table I scoured the dark recesses of my cabinets and found some old holiday paper plates and napkins and we made ourselves a little makeshift picnic right there next to the light of our tree.  We huddled together on the floor around our little repurposed black coffee table and Aaron started sharing favorite Christmas memories. Soon he was asking the kids to share and before we knew it, we realized something special was happening.  It was the beauty of the tree that drew us in but the sharing of our stories that kept us there.  That night was like a wonderful gift hand delivered to us, completely unexpected and somewhat magical.

Now, almost 7 years later, it is one of the traditions we most look forward to.  Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, we chop down our tree, drag it home, decorate it and then settle in for appetizers and stories by white lights.

Sometimes the most meaningful things happen without any preparation at all. 

This season is full of planned parties, festivities and menus.  And that’s not bad.  There is a lot to be said for putting thought and detail into something and planning it out ahead of time.  I love to have people in my home when we’ve scheduled it and I have the time to clean my house and plan a great menu.  I love to set a beautiful table and make my guests feel special.  But I have to tell you that some of the most life giving conversations that have taken place in my house, some of the most wonderful memories that have been made, have occurred when friends have dropped by unannounced.  With no expectations and zero preparation on my part.  Holy conversations have been held with crumbs on my counter and dirt on my floor.

In this busy season of scheduled everything, don’t be afraid to rogue once in a while.  To toss a schedule or two to the wind, and to just show up.  Somewhere.  Perhaps for someone.  There is beauty in the unannounced visit.  There is healing in the unexpected word of encouragement.  There is grace for the moment, whether you’ve planned for it or not.

A prayer: Father, teach us to make room in our schedule for you. We ask for your wisdom and guidance in our decisions.  May you use us in unplanned ways to speak love and hope into the lives around us.  May we experience more holy moments in the middle of our days.