Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Watch Out for the Weeds

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In first grade my teacher gave my class a science project. Each student planted a sunflower seed in soil in a Dixie cup. It was our task to water our seed every day until it sprouted. Then came the exciting part. Each of us took our fledgling sunflower and planted it at our own home. Each week we were to report on the progress of our plant’s growth in class. Before releasing our plant into our care, my teacher issued us a warning: “Watch out for the weeds.”

My mom helped me plant my sunflower in our garden, and for days I lovingly tended it. But the novelty slowly wore off. I would water my plant but only after being reminded. One day my mom pulled me aside. “How’s your sunflower doing?”

“Fine.” I looked down at my feet feeling a twinge of guilt.

“Have you been watching out for the weeds?”

“Yes, there are none. And my plant is getting really big.”

“Okay, that’s good.” my mom said. “But pay attention to choker weeds.”

“What’s that?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

My mom explained that a choker weed slowly grows around a plant, often undetected for awhile, and eventually chokes the life out of it.

I promised I would pay attention.

My six year old self was much more interested in reading books than playing outside. I kept telling myself that I needed to take care of my sunflower. I really liked it and was proud of it. I thought about it a lot. It was growing tall, and the flower was going to bloom soon. I knew that eventually I would get sunflower seeds, and I loved sunflower seeds.

One day I ran home after school to check on my plant. It was dead, and I was devastated. My beautiful sunflower lay on the ground, shriveled and beyond help. A choker weed had been the culprit. My mom pointed it out to me. In my haste, I had not seen it before. In my neglect, I had not nurtured my sunflower properly.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
~Proverbs 4:23

Like plants in a garden, our hearts need to be nurtured. Everything we do flows from it. We need to live in the Light. We need the water of God’s Word. We must also watch out for the weeds, especially choker weeds. Bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness are subtle at first and can remain undetected for awhile, but if allowed to grow, they will choke life from us. We may even notice them, but decide to ignore them. After all, others have hurt us and deserve to be treated poorly. In reality though, we only hurt ourselves by allowing their presence.

We thrive in life and leadership when we consistently invite the Lord to examine our hearts, and trust Him to remove the weeds. Living a life of love requires vigilant care of our hearts.

Today I am still not much of a gardener, and I do very little yard work. I am thankful my husband takes care of the mowing and watering. It’s my self-appointed job to take care of the weeds. As I pull weeds, I ask the Lord to reveal any weeds that need to be removed from my heart. I want to remain free from the destruction of choker weeds.

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life and love. Help me to be diligent with the weeds of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness, so that they do not affect my heart. By Your Spirit, equip me to recognize their presence and take action to remove them. I want to be an example of Christ to the world with a heart free to serve others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Personal Development, Vision & Goal Setting

Sometimes Less is More

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As a young woman, I didn’t need much sleep. I believed that sleep was a necessary evil that robbed me from living an exciting and productive life. I wanted to do great things for the Lord and I packed my schedule from early in the morning until late at night. I aspired to have an amazing marriage, raise fabulous kids, work full time in meaningful ministry, invest actively in my community, build close friendships, and pursue my education, all at the same time. In addition, I wanted to keep a spotless house, cook delicious dinners every evening, have a healthy body, and keep up with my hobbies. And of course, cultivating a growing relationship with Jesus was the top priority. I was definitely ambitious, and coffee was my constant companion.

At some point, though, my body began to rebel against the break-neck pace, and I became allergic to the caffeine in coffee. I can’t seem to remember which one happened first. What I do remember is the frustration and anger I felt at not being productive. Although I hadn’t successfully juggled everything in my life according to my excellent standards, that didn’t matter. Now there was no chance at blazing a big trail of glory for the Lord. After all, isn’t being busy the same as being productive?

You may be laughing or shaking your head at my belief system. The truth is, I didn’t really think about why I did what I did back then. All I knew is I wanted a life that really mattered. It wasn’t until I had to stop and take a step back at the situation I had created that I realized my crazy way of thinking.

It doesn’t seem that our culture has changed much in thirty years in regard to being busy. I know there are people that embrace the simple lifestyle. And, there are Christ-followers who adhere to practicing regular quiet time, Sabbath, and spiritual retreats. But still, what seems to be the most common compliant when you ask someone how they are doing?

“I’m so busy!” Although they lament the fact, they still wear it as a badge of honor.

I have learned and continue to learn that busy does not equal productive, and it certainly does not equal meaningful. Sometimes less is more. This applies to managing our time well.

A powerful strategic business plan will target three to five strategic initiatives on which to focus. Any more than five will dilute effectiveness. In a similar way, if we are going to live powerfully, we cannot spread ourselves too thin. Narrowing our focus to fewer things will increase our ability for real impact.

As I prepare to begin a doctoral program in January, I have been reminded that I cannot add 20 hours of study per week to an already full plate. I need to approach my education seriously and remove some good things off my plate. I haven’t figured out what that looks like yet. Thankfully (hopefully) I have some time.

There are some questions to ask ourselves as we consider how to spend our time.

  • Am I able to spend time on the things that are truly important to me rather than on just the things that are urgent?
  • If I could only spend time on five areas, what would they be? Remember to include relationships.
  • How much room is in my schedule to accommodate divine interruptions?
  • Does my pace of life center on tasks or people? What can be changed to allow more time to invest in others?
  • If my life were to end today, what regrets would I have?

It’s a constant temptation to pack our schedules with good things. It takes diligence to be prayerfully intentional about how we spend our days. Sometimes less is more. Saying yes to less will yield blessings and empower us to be more fruitful.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom. Help me to be mindful that each day is a gift from you. Help me to be intentional in how I spend each day. Show me Your ways and Your will, so that I may honor You above all things. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

You Are So Much More Than Labels

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Have you noticed all the quizzes on Facebook these days? Take a short test and learn which Disney character you most resemble, or who your literary soulmate is, or what era of history you belong in. We human beings are fascinated with ourselves and how we fit in the world. If we really want to figure ourselves out, there are many professional assessments from which to choose. We can build quite a profile:

~Are you an introvert or extrovert? (Did you know there is even an ambivert?)
~Which one of the four personalities are you in the DISC personality assessment?
~Which one of the 16 personalities are you in the Myers-Briggs personality assessment?
~What are your top five leadership strengths?
~What are your spiritual gifts?
~What is your preferred learning style?
~Which of the nine intelligences do you possess?
~What is your IQ?

And this is just part of a long list.

I’m not minimizing the value of learning about ourselves. It is enlightening and even fun to understand how God made us. It helps us to become more aware and better leaders. However, who we are goes way beyond labels.

The personal assessment mentioned above usually identify positive or neutral characteristics. Sometimes we receive labels from others in our lives.

Outgoing. Shy. Smart. Slow learner. Stupid. Beautiful. Full figured. Fat. Ugly. Athletic. Clumsy. Driven. Lazy. Worthless. Failure…

People can inflict great damage from their use of labels.

Regardless of the labels you have received, you are so much more than labels.

Labels may describe aspects of ourselves. But they are limited. They may or may not be true. They cannot describe everything about us. And they certainly do not define us.

A couple weeks ago at a counseling session, I took an assessment regarding a trauma that occurred earlier this year. As I result I was diagnosed with PTSD. I felt shaken and frustrated that the event continues to affect me, and I reached out to a friend who shared words of wisdom.

“I hear what you are saying, that the diagnosis of PTSD is disappointing. Know it is only a path to healing, not an identity.”

Thank God for this friend and her reminder! This label does not define me. The work of God is working in me.

Being an introvert does not keep me from loving people. Preferring to work alone does not prevent me from working with a team. Being detail-oriented does not mean I cannot develop visionary skills. The diagnosis of PTSD will not cripple me from doing the things the Lord has asked of me. It is a pathway to experience more of Him in my life.

What about you? Do you realize that God is at work in you?

The One who knows your thoughts before you are even aware and has counted every hair on your head is working to transform you into the image of Christ.

The Lover of your soul is teaching you to love. He is working in the midst of your closest relationships.

The Healer is strengthening you by His mighty power. He sees your current diagnosis or health challenge and is closer than you know.

The King of all kings has set you in your current place of leadership. Even when the task seems too large for your experience and abilities, He is equipping you with everything you need to do His will.

Don’t put too much authority on the labels in your life. Use them as tools and discard the ones that are damaging. You are so much more than labels. You are a cherished child of our Heavenly Father who has a special plan for your life and is working in you to fulfill it.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Ephesians 3:19-20, NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your perfect love. Help me to remember that the labels in life do not define me. I am who You say I am, and You are working in me to become more than I could ask or imagine. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development, Servant Leadership

My Things Aren’t Really My Things

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My things. When I think about it, I am grateful for all that I have.

My husband, my family, my friends, my job…Most of my “things” aren’t objects at all, but rather people who are incredibly dear to me. Now think about all the “things” in your life, and fill in the blank.

My __________.

If you’re like me, you can come up with a pretty long list.

Perhaps, too, if you’re like me, you take great responsibility for your things.

In no way do I wish to minimize the importance of good stewardship. God’s Word speaks about investing in our relationships and doing everything as though we are working for the Lord and not people. Striving to reach goals with excellence is a noble pursuit. However, at the end of the day I must remember that my things aren’t really my things. All of my things belong to the Lord.

Remember that list you compiled in your mind? Try adding the words “belong(s) to the Lord.”

  • My spouse belongs to the Lord.
  • My family belongs to the Lord.
  • My friends belong to the Lord.
  • My job belongs to the Lord.

I’m going to add a few more.

  • My house belongs to the Lord.
  • My health belongs to the Lord.
  • My life belongs to the Lord.

This change in perspective is both powerful and freeing. I can hold onto things quite tightly. My desire to be responsible quickly morphs into taking ownership, when in reality only Jesus Christ is King. I must do my best to be faithful and to love others with His love, but when all is said and done, the results (or lack of perceived results) rest squarely on His shoulders.

When I realize that the Lord is Master and I am His servant, life becomes easier and I can thrive in adversity or when things don’t go my way.

Since stepping into leadership of a pregnancy center, I have strategically tried to reach women facing unplanned pregnancy and vulnerable to making a choice for abortion. Last year we were privileged to serve 220 abortion vulnerable women who chose to continue their pregnancies. This year, even though we have not changed anything in our approach, we have seen more women who are not considering abortion than I would like. They are uninsured, need free services, and want to go to a life-affirming clinic, but they don’t fall into the category of our preferred client. However, as a ministry of availability we don’t have a say in who comes through our doors. When I think of the pregnancy center as my “baby,” I get stressed out that we aren’t on target to reach as many abortion vulnerable women as last year. However, when I think of Life Choices as belonging to the Lord, I see each person as a divine appointment regardless of their circumstances. It’s an opportunity to talk about the miracle of life and share God’s love in word and action.

I have thought of other things in my life as my “baby” as well. This blog is one of them. Since facing a traumatic event six weeks ago, I have found it difficult to communicate. When I speak, my words gets jumbled. I think one thing and something entirely different, even opposite, comes out of my mouth. Writing, which is something I love, can feel excruciating. Words that used to flow quickly at the keyboard now eek out at a snail’s pace. The weight of producing a blog post every week added to my inability to write. When I thought of this as my blog, I was smothered by responsibility and irritated by writer’s block. When it dawned on me that this blog belongs to the Lord, I felt released from the pressure. I can write when inspired. I don’t have to be bound to a schedule and can enjoy the creative process again.

The same applies to my relationships, even the closest ones. I can love them like Jesus, and provide a grace-filled environment, but in the end their choices are their choices. As much as their decisions may hurt my heart, they will answer to the Lord, not to me.

What about you? What things are you holding onto as your things? Remember that everything in your life really belongs to the Lord. Enjoy the freedom of knowing that the outcome ultimately belongs to Him.

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything (Hebrews 3:3-4).

For in him [Christ] all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You that I live and move and have my being in You. I am grateful for the many blessings in my life. I acknowledge that they come from Your hand and not my own. Help me to remember that I am called to be a faithful manager. I am not the Owner; I am not in charge of the outcome. Help me to grow in trust and thrive in the midst of every challenge I face. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

The Healing Journey

I recently came across this blog post that I wrote three years ago. It was before I started working through my childhood trauma and now my family’s current traumatic event. Interestingly though, it applies just as much now as it did then…

new life through Christ

God has called us to participate in His journey of healing. We may be sick in body, or we may need to be transformed from unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. Regardless of the type and degree, God longs to show Himself as our healing God, the One who restores us to walk in His health. We all want healing to happen quickly, even miraculously. Right now would be perfect, thank you very much! While healing–spiritual, physical, and emotional–does occur miraculously at times, it is usually a process, a journey. This journey is full of the riches of discovery with plenty of opportunities to trust and become more like Jesus.

The healing process hits close to home right now, as I had my gall bladder removed one week ago. Even in the midst of a straight forward, easy recovery, I am aware of my restlessness with the healing process. I don’t like feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable. However, I am also aware of God’s still small voice encouraging me with gentle and loving instruction.

He has been reminding me…

God’s time table for me is unique. I can get easily discouraged when I look at the progress of others. At least a dozen people have shared their gall bladder removal stories with me. Their accounts–easy, in and out procedure, up and around in no time. One friend had surgery on Thursday and was back to work on Monday. I am definitely not on her time table! God has His own plan in motion.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:13-14,16 NLT

I trust God’s good plans along with His timing. My process may not look like everyone else, but it doesn’t have to. This is a journey God intentionally designed for me.

Patience with the process is necessary. A part of me prefers the idea of quick fixes and immediate solutions. Another part of me realizes how superficial that is. To be honest, we all experience the consequences of decisions made over a long period of time. Why do we expect to step out of it immediately? I find it interesting that even though we are instantly forgiven and become new creations when we trust Jesus Christ as Savior, we are still called to engage in the transformation process.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2 NLT

Changing the way you think and learning to know God’s will are not one time occurrences. Rather, they are on-going, active practices that contribute to growth over time. My part is to abide with Jesus, access the power He provides, and let God do the transforming in me. When I realize that God is the One at work, that it’s not all on my shoulders, I am able to rest and approach the process with patience.

God gives me the strength I need for the journey.  I confess…
There are days I feel like I don’t have enough energy to get out of bed.
There are days I feel like I have no encouraging, faith-filled words for others.
There are days I feel like life is unraveling at the seams and I simply cannot fix it.
I am weak.

Thankfully the Holy Spirit never allows me to wallow in this mess of feelings for very long!
Yes, I am weak, but my Jesus is strong. In fact, I have His promise that His power works best in weakness. Jesus offers me His grace, and it is the strength I need for the journey (2 Corinthians 12).

And just in case, this passage in 2 Corinthians 12 isn’t inspiring enough…

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

God has given everything I need for the journey He has set before me!

Whatever healing journey we are currently on, our loving heavenly Father has made all the provisions for our success. Will we trust Him to transform us through the process?

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I come before You and acknowledge my need of You. Thank You for giving me new life through Jesus Christ. Thank You for providing me with all I need for becoming more like Jesus. Help me to trust You during this healing journey. Help me to be patient with the process. Help me to rely on Your strength in times of weakness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Don’t Take Life for Granted

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Have you ever faced your own mortality? Have you gazed upon the nearness of death? Have you suddenly been awakened to the preciousness of life?

This happened to me a week ago when I stood before one of the masked men that invaded my home and ordered me by gunpoint to get on the ground. As he moved to my back, still aiming his gun to my head, I wondered, “Is this the way my life will end?” Within moments, my life was spared. The Lord used my husband to bravely rescue me and protect our family from harm.

As I marvel with gratitude at God’s deliverance, I am also struck with a profound realization that I have been given a gift. Along with this gift comes a huge responsibility. It is a responsibility to be a good steward of the days God gives me, whether it be many or few. Life is too precious to take granted.

We don’t have to experience a tragedy in order to examine our priorities. Hopefully we can take the time before a crisis to stop and make adjustments.

I am not sure what the healing process will look like for me in the days and weeks ahead, but I am trusting the Lord to help me thrive following this trauma. While on this journey with Jesus, here is what I will focus on:

Always say “yes” to the Lord. I want to live in willing obedience. Whatever He says, I will do. Wherever He leads, I will follow. His Word directs my steps and lights my way. I step out in faith as He empowers me.

Tell the ones I love that I love them often. I cherish my family and friends, and will frequently express my care for them. I want them to have fond memories of my devotion. I will do my part to deal with conflict and resolve unpleasant issues so that they do not infect relationships.

Spend my time on the things that are important. Saying “yes” to the Lord and investing in relationships are priorities to me. Proper self-care is essential for my healing too. My calendar must reflect my priorities. I must order my schedule accordingly.

Don’t take life for granted. What is the Lord speaking to your heart about priorities? What adjustments will you make to reflect what is really important?

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth (Psalm 115:1).

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life. Help me to steward my time well and to place Your will at the center. Show me how to order my priorities, and grant me courage to make the necessary changes. I want to live a life of purpose on purpose, glorifying You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Three Things My Mom Taught Me

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A few days ago I had my 49th birthday. The Lord has been so good to me. Not that life is easy. In fact, the last few years have been painful because of significant loss and also with intensive emotional healing. I have lifted the lid to my past and acknowledged the dysfunction and brokenness of my childhood, inviting Jesus to heal me. Excruciating and yet liberating.

But it has been tough for my parents too. I understand. Almost every parent, Christ-follower or not, tries their hardest and wants the best for their kids. It’s heart wrenching to find out that despite your best intentions and efforts, it wasn’t enough to protect them from being damaged in some way. However, in celebration of my birthday, I want to reflect on the rich blessings poured out on me. For starters, I give thanks to the Lord for my mom.

My mom was 18 years old when she found out she was pregnant. The doctor recommended she have an abortion. After all she was young and had just started college. Despite the conventional wisdom of the day, she chose life for me. For that reason alone, I am deeply grateful.

My parents got married and wanted a happy family, but it didn’t work out. It was difficult and confusing to navigate divorce as a child. I would have loved to have been raised by two parents on the same team in the same household. Nevertheless, they invested in my life in different ways and taught me some valuable lessons that continue to shape me. Today I want to share with you three things I learned from my mom.

  1. It’s never too late to change. My mom committed her life to Christ at the age of 32. She had done a lot of living before then, marked by broken relationships and poor choices. I have heard her compare herself to the woman at the well in John Chapter 4. And like the woman at the well, my mom was radically changed when she encountered Jesus. The Savior lovingly reached out to her, she took His hand, and I have witnessed her walk out the process of glorious transformation. No matter her age, my mom is committed to growing personally, in her relationship with Christ, and in her relationships with others. In fact, her marriage to my step-dad speaks loudly of her desire to change. After suffering through three divorces, my mom recently celebrated twenty years of marriage to her beloved husband.
  2. Always take the high road. Most of my mom’s career has been focused on public sector and non-profit work. She is an excellent administrator and has great skills in networking and building partnerships. Unfortunately, she has also been viewed negatively by others who felt that she threatened their agendas. My mom has been the recipient of ugly words and treatment. At times, she has endured immense pressure. Regardless of how she is treated, my mom will not stoop to their level. She stands firm in her position, but extends kindness and respect. She is not two-faced; she does not speak negatively about others. My mom relies on the Lord to help her respond with truth, honesty, and integrity. And, no matter what, to love and pray for those who opposed her.
  3. Be brave enough to acknowledge your mistakes. It is hard for most people to admit they are wrong. A sense of fear or shame can be powerful when looking at our failures. We want to hide or bury the mistake, or we respond defensively out of self-protection. Yet, my mom can look at fear or shame, take a deep breath, and muster enough courage to deal with past and present issues—whether small or large. She taught me to be brave enough to acknowledge little mistakes. Rather than lying to cover it up or getting angry at the one who pointed it out, she takes responsibility. Having nothing to prove, she says something like, “Oh, that was me. I did it. Sorry about that!” My mom also taught me to be brave enough to look at the big mistakes. This ability has been a gift to me especially while on my own healing journey the last few years. As I have talked with her about childhood abuse and trauma, she has listened with grace. She does not justify herself. She does not minimize my experiences. Instead, she tries to understand my perspective and see how she contributed to my pain, even though her motivation as a parent was not to hurt me. I have tried modeling this approach with my own adult children. I know I have not parented perfectly. Even though it is scary, I want to be brave enough to acknowledge my mistakes, and see my kids experience the healing they need.

As I embark on a new year and approach the age 50, my goal is to incorporate these lessons into my life more fully. I am so thankful for my mom and the things she taught me. I hope that her example is an inspiration to you, as well. I encourage you to use her lessons as tools to help you thrive in life and in the positions God has called you.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7).

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me and speaking to my heart. Help me to learn from parents, mentors, and others you have placed in my life, and to apply their wisdom. Continue to mold me and make me to be more like You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.