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Faith

Faith

The Quickest Way to Turn Around Even the Hardest of Days

June 4, 2018

Recently I was driving around town with my two kiddos and could feel myself slipping into a funk. This one had been lingering for the last few days and the pull felt extra strong that morning.

At this point in life I’m pretty aware that if I don’t do something about it quickly, my whole perception will become ridiculously distorted with illusions and misconceptions about reality. I may be troubled by something specific, but if I don’t purposefully get moving toward a better place in my thoughts I’ll start convincing myself that everything is wrong, nothing is right, and all is hopeless. I tend to swing from one extreme to the other fairly easily.

So on those days I do what I know works best, quickest, and most effectively. I stop repeating what is wrong or what I am burdened by, I take my eyes off what isn’t, and I simply say thank you.

My friend Allison taught this to me years ago. She called it the “thankful game,” in which she would rapidly begin listing off everything she could thank God for in a given moment. It was particularly effective during our long half-marathon runs. As tired as we were, with miles still ahead of us, our whole mindset shifted the minute we reminded ourselves how thankful we were that we even could run, that we had healthy bodies, paved roads, and shoes on our feet. The minute we remembered what was, what wasn’t didn’t seem so all-pervasive (or dire).

So in the middle of my funk last week I looked at my two-year-old daughter in the rearview mirror and told her we were going to start thanking God for all he’d given us that day. I began by thanking him for the car we were driving, the Bible study we were about to attend, and my healthy kiddos sitting in the backseat. Eloise then reminded me that we were also thankful for carseats (heck yes!) and her buddy Beckett’s mom, which made me smile.

Instantly things shifted. I wasn’t dwelling on what wasn’t going as I wanted, but instead remembering all that has been given and all that is so good around me. The practice took seconds and it immediately moved my eyes from lack to abundance, from unmet expectations to lavished gifts in my life.

And those two words made all the difference.

I’ve never forgotten the way a close pastor has always put it for me. Over and over I’ve come to him in different seasons with tears running down my face because of my disappointment or sadness over something I was walking through, wrestling with, or struggling to find peace in.

And over and over again he has responded with the words, “But we are thankful.”

Yes life is hard, but we are thankful.

Yes that’s a serious loss, but we are thankful.

Yes that’s unfair, unfortunate, or seemingly impossible, but we are still thankful.

Thankfulness isn’t attached to circumstances, which is exactly why it’s so powerful. Because ultimately thankfulness flows from deep within us, out of our awareness that all is a gift anyway. For all that is, all that isn’t, and all that we haven’t yet seen, even still we can be thankful.

Paul, writing to a new community arising in faith, told them to “thank God no matter what happens” (1 Thess 5:18).

Not only because we can and because we should, but because it changes everything. Each day shifts the minute we say thank you. Every conversation, relationship, worry – it all changes when we stop and remember again all that is good, all that is gifted, and all that God has done.

So how are you today? What’s weighing on you or worrying you? Instead of giving more thoughts and emotions to what isn’t, what if you stop, remember again how God has come through in the past, and start spouting off all that you are grateful for in the present?

Because fresh faith and fuel for today is found by pausing, lifting our eyes off our problems, and saying again those words powerfully detached from present circumstances or emotions. Thank you.

Faith

The Cost of Revelation

May 16, 2016

Last week I submitted a giant paper – 39 pages in total. In high school 4 pages felt like an eternal task to overcome. But somehow I sent in that thing and it felt so good. So good.

So what did I write on?

Well, a whole 3 verses.

It sounds crazy to imagine writing so much on so little, but it’s easier than you might think. The minute I started reading over those verses, reciting and hearing myself speak them, opening books and pulling back the veil on the words, a world opened of connection, meaning and understanding.

Out it came, 3 verses, 4 months, 39 pages and more hours than I could ever count.

Not only was I up before dawn most days to squeeze in some writing before the first peep came from the nursery above, but so many others made this possible. At the beginning of the semester Mark and I assessed what needed to get done for my school along with his work (and our move) and looked at each other knowing we literally could not do this without help. That’s the thing about parenthood – it will get you so dependent on community that no matter what your feelings are prior to kiddos, the minute you have a little one you will need the help of others.

So the paper was made possible by our village. Friends took Eloise for an afternoon when we had no coverage. Family flew down for a weekend while I flew up to school. Others housed and fed me while I was away. And still another drove hours one evening to give me a big hug after a weekend of Hebrew (and a long month of moving).

Those verses demanded more than I was ever prepared to give. So when I pushed submit I was in total shock. I couldn’t believe it. My eyes were red and blurry from staring at the computer for so long, my hair hadn’t been washed in days, and my clothes were on repeat for the nth time that week.

But I was done.

I sat back, exhaled a huge sigh of relief and took a moment to let it soak in. There it hit me.

Revelation comes by hard work. And it will always cost.

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We think (hope) revelation has to do with luck. We bank on hitting the jackpot on some beautiful secret of the Kingdom that will provide understanding and intimacy and knowledge of God.

It’s easy to sit in church, at a conference, or listen to a podcast and hear some speaker release this incredible word of insight about God’s Kingdom. They may teach on a scripture we’ve heard for years, but something is so fresh. We’ve never heard it like that before. We leave hungry for more with excitement high and wonder if maybe we can grab hold of some nugget of truth with the same ease as when they taught it.

But not long after, we’re as dried up, burned out, and weary as ever.

Why? Two reasons.

1. We’re camping out in the false land that says the secrets of the Kingdom come by ease, quickness, or luck. They don’t. They never will.

2. We’ve feasted on the revelation of another as if it were our own. We stopped going to the source, willing to trade true nourishment for the quick fix of another’s treasure.

But the truth is that revelation has everything to do with cultivation, hard work, and blistered up hands from digging into the ground ourselves. The words of great anointing that set people free and release the Spirit of God are always anchored in stories of wrestling and struggling and plain old-fashioned hard work.

We say we want to know God more, to understand the greater depths of the Kingdom and to release something fresh upon this earth. But the question is, how much will we let it cost?

Revelation bears the price of life experience and it demands hard work. We can never carry or release a word we have not lived. Knowing God requires patience, seasons of obscurity, struggle or heartache, and a willingness to work hard for our own bread.

The only way to satisfy our hunger to know God is to dig into it for ourselves so we reap what will truly nourish the weary parts of us. There is no shortcut.

Faith

When Promotion Came

February 16, 2016

The gracious reality of trying seasons is that they don’t, in fact, last forever. So we knew eventually a fresh wind would come our way and send us in a new direction. And thankfully, it did.

The beautiful irony of last year is that while Mark started off without a job, he ended with a promotion. A promotion that both excites and terrifies us. A promotion that requires a total upheaval of life. A promotion that, one month from now, means our little clan is pulling up our stakes in Georgia and planting them smack-dab in the middle of Orlando.

We’re moving by the subtle whisper of God who is calling us to a new adventure totally outside familiar territory. While I find myself fairly freaked out by the whole change and wondering what in the world we are doing, my friends keep cheering me on. They remind me that this is a great adventure we’re living as our little family. I’m so thankful for their excitement. And I believe them. Adventure is exhilarating.

But I also know that adventure is filled with lonely days, new rhythms, and dependency in the midst of utter unfamiliarity. Adventure is a gift. But it is work. It is undeniably glorious and painfully stretching – the coupled reality of all of God’s journeys.

God is a sending God. Sometimes that comforts me, knowing that faith does not have stagnancy interwoven through it. But risk and unknowns are certain to be companions, and that can be unnerving. To build and establish what will last beyond our lifetime almost always means heading somewhere foreign to do what we have no idea about at the time of sending.

Given our current situation, I’ve been thinking a lot about moments of promotion, upgrade, and acceleration in life. What I’ve realized most is that those times are never what we imagine them to be.

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Heading into this new adventure, I’m aware of a couple things:

First, whether in seasons of drought or rainfall we are required to steward what is before us. Mark and I were responsible for our how we responded to what came our way last year. Did we use God’s promises to stabilize us in the middle of the shakiness or keep them shelved? Did we allow circumstances to swirl us into chaos or listen to the small whisper that quiets us into trust. How we handle uncertainties determines a lot of what we’ll be entrusted with ahead.

Also, promotion doesn’t really fix anything. For us, yes, Mark has a job. But that job means added challenges like planting ourselves in a foreign place. If those moments of promotion are considered the promised land, the falsity is that there all loose ends get tied and all messes get cleaned. There is no land where there are no loose ends and no messes. Over and over I must remind myself to break out of this destination mentality that says that ahead, over there, I will find my nice plot of land where I can thrive, be at peace, and remain uninterrupted.

Because the peace, growth, and character we long to gain are always built where there is tension. That tension reminds us that we are living a greater story than ourselves.

Ultimately, I would say that this move scares me more than others because I have absolutely no idea what is on the other side. With past decisions, I had an inkling of how life would change, through community, travel, or ministry opportunities. But this move leaves me fairly speechless. I don’t know what to say about it because I don’t at all know what it holds. I have no clue what life looks on the other side of this jump.

But then there’s that whisper, the one who met me a decade ago, the one whose quiet voice pierces me with his love. That voice says to go, not knowing a thing about this journey, and trust in his favor over our family in this season. That voice reminds me that it’s all a journey without a destination point.

His whisper says again to me that the keys to enjoying life are thankfulness and partaking in today’s offering.

Faith

Learning to Stand (Part 3)

February 4, 2016

I used to go to this workout class when I lived in Gainesville, Georgia. It was run by the one and only Ava, who is by far one of my favorite people I have ever met. Her bootcamp class started at 5:30 with Ava likely being the last one to show up in the room. You’d know she was coming before the door ever blew open. Though Ava is only 5’2”, she’s a ball of fire with a southern voice that’s loud and full of life. You smile when you hear it because you know you’re in for the best time.

She’d burst through the door and be mid-sentence, Diet Coke in hand. She’d expect you to know the first half of what she was saying even though that part was said down the hallway. Her short blonde hair was always pulled back in a ponytail, but with enough pieces falling out of each side to let you know she’s in a hurry. Always in a hurry, as if you were wondering.

I remember the day I told her I was getting married. I raised up my left hand with my shiny ring reflecting the overhead lights and proclaimed, “Ava! I’m engaged!” She cried. The grab-the-kleenex kind of tears. She said it was like her own daughter telling her. Ava is someone you never want to forget once you meet her.

Ava would have us do the craziest things in that hour workout. We would be upside down on top of picnic tables and run with medicine balls like pregnant bellies for laps on end. She had this one signature move where we’d take this bosu (think half-dome exercise ball with a 2’ diameter) and flip it upside down so the circular part was on the ground, unstable. Then she’d make sure we each had a kettle bell, the heavier the better. And she’d tell us we had to get on the bosu with the kettle bell and swing our hearts out (high in the air, over our heads).

Every time it confirmed to me that she was a crazy woman. But there was no backing out in Ava’s class, so onto the bosu we all went – with the kettle bell – to, yes, swing them.

Let me tell you, there was only one goal in mind at this point and it had nothing to do with getting a better figure or a faster running speed. The only goal was to keep standing.

I would tighten every muscle in my body, squat as low as possible with my legs so I couldn’t be taken down easily, and try my best to swing that kettle bell high in the air, all in an effort to appease Ava and not die.

I quickly learned that my point of attention mattered most. Where I set my focus determined if I would keep standing or find myself on the floor in moments. Both happened on different occasions.

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Last year I felt a lot like I was standing on that bosu again with ankles wobbling uncontrollably and abs shaking from the strain being put on them. Standing amidst trying circumstances demands all of us – squatted legs, tight core, and the perseverance to believe for the breakthrough even if we cannot see it coming.

Certain strength and perseverance can only be caught when our ground shakes. That’s the irony. We become stronger standing on the unexpected ground, more unmovable and secure the more it feels as though things may crumble. The growth that changes us at the core doesn’t happen where it’s flat, firm land – it happens when things are shaking and shifting all around us. The uncertain offers us the chance to change and become – all by way of standing.

And that’s no easy thing. But if I sat with you today and you asked me what I learned last year, I think my best answer would be this: I learned to stand.

Seasons when we feel out of control, and so do our circumstances, demand that we show up for ourselves. More than others telling us we will be okay and it will work out in the end, we must look at ourselves and say, I promise that you are strong enough to withstand this.

To show up for ourselves means we aren’t fixated on what happened in the past or wrapped up awaiting what may come in the future. Instead, it requires us to be fully present in what is before us today – and to be faith-filled for ourselves in it.

Sometimes you need to pull your core tight, squat yourself low, and decide you will out-stand the circumstances in the moment. Out-hope the despair you feel. Out-believe the fear that is pressing in on you. Out-wait the unexpected.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is stand, wait, and settle within yourself that in these circumstances, you will simply keep standing.

 

Photo credit: Barn Images

Faith

Waiting Expectantly

October 23, 2014

I can remember countless times in my life when something new or unexpected invaded my day and I instantly stirred with excitement. I wondered what God was up to, how he may be answering longstanding prayers of mine, and hoped that this could be it – the ministry, the job, the spouse, or the fresh season.

It’s natural that our expectancy gets stirred when the unexpected makes a visit or life’s seasons begin to change. When that suddenly pops into our midst or that decision is finally made, we are meant to feel charged by the possibilities in front of us.

Without much effort, our minds race with dreams over what will come of this relationship, upcoming move, or new job. We mentally begin charting the course for what could come and how it will look. We proclaim freely to anyone who will listen that we are ready to go where the winds take us.

But many times, the course takes a sharp turn. Although at first we are filled with vibrant expectancy for what God is doing, as the time passes and things don’t head in our anticipated direction, disappointment can settle in. And just like that we can move from excitement to discouragement to defeat.

Given the number of times it has happened in my own life, I am convinced of this: there is a flaw in the system.

Something is off if the beginning of God moving in a fresh way in our midst results in our own discouragement or, even worse, bitterness and offense in him.

So what gives?

Expectancy is a holy act of faith. It’s rooted in believing God at his word and that he will move no matter what we see before us. Keeping our eyes on the unseen and what lies ahead is staying expectant. As we traverse the unknown path, expectancy cheers, “Don’t get defeated by what’s before you or what you’re battling today. There’s something bigger to all of this. Keep moving and believing.”

The Bible is threaded with words urging us to be expectant. Expect the new, the good, the hard thing.  Expect to persevere, to wait, and to be utterly amazed. God speaks his promises to us of what he intends to do through us. That’s why God’s people waited expectantly for him to come (Lk 3:15). They believed he would do what he said he would do.

Expectancy is built into active faith.

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But, if we’re not careful, we can take that expectancy and build boundaries of expectations around it. We can load it down with expectations of how it’s to be packaged. The bricks laid by our own hands carry our terms of what should happen, how it will look, and when it will come.

And so, what was stirred by faith in God, now becomes gripped by our own control.

The hope of a new season, or an unexpected suddenly, is that God is up to something. But we veer off course when we start defining the form of that new thing.

When our expectancy becomes restrained by definitions, the fruit of those unanswered expectations is ugly. That’s when disappointment, offense, and bitterness start growing. And because we attach those expectations to God, the outcome becomes connected to him as well. So, with unmet expectations based on our own terms and definitions, we begin to see God as the one who lied, disappointed, or tricked us.

There is a different way, though. We are meant to live freely with promises that stir our expectancy without attaching boundaries and walls to define its form and time. While expectations confine us to control what’s happening, expectancy builds faith and hope for what God is doing and how he will do it.

Ditch the stuff that strangles life and freedom from God’s move in your season. And wait expectantly knowing this: he is moving and doing a new thing, and you will see his goodness in this land.

 

How do you preserve your expectancy without controlling it by expectations?

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