Rest for Your Soul

 

There’s a study I was introduced to years ago called Journey to Freedom. The man who wrote it, Scott Real, knows we all have hurts, habits, and hang-ups. He knows some of us can end up with addictions. The study couldn’t have a better title. Living in a place of daily freedom is a journey and it takes effort. But, oh, it’s worth staying the course.

I’ve done this study, personally, and now I’ve led Journey groups four times. I always discover new insights about myself as I put forth the effort to live in daily freedom. Many times what I learn is not from the book, but from the other participants. Something different about the format of this study is that we do an “emotions check-in”. This is not your ordinary way of opening up a study before delving into the material studied that week. But, it is where we need to begin each week in order to move forward into doing inner work that is not extrinsic, but intrinsic. Starting out this way doesn’t leave much room for hiding. No one is forced to share, but if the personal desire is for transformation, then individual sharing will happen.

Just a few days ago our group met. Attendance was low so there was more time for sharing about the emotions we were aware of and then to elaborate if desired. We use Chip Dodd’s emotions chart. He believes there eight core emotions: Hurt, anger, sadness, guilt, shame, loneliness, fear, gladness. It seemed one other participant and I had all eight emotions going on at the same time. I must admit it felt good to share what I was feeling in a safe and confidential place. And yes, I elaborated a bit.

This is a group where there is no fixing and advice giving. But, as one beautiful woman shared from her own life, I heard words I needed to hear yet again: Rest in God. It’s the antidote for anxiousness that comes from the core emotions of anger, guilt, shame, and sadness. I was feeling all of this that day.

So, I’ve rested in God. What does that look like for me?

  • I find a place of quiet space for at least 20 minutes each day. In that space I practice silence, solitude and stillness.
  • If I feel tension in my body, I focus on deep breathing. A physician’s wife many years ago told me what a cleansing breath that relaxes looks like: I inhale slowly from my diaphragm and slowly release that air. I should allow at least six seconds for that good exhale. I do this 3-6 times. My tension shows up in my shoulders. This helps relax them.
  • I express to God how much I love Him. I sense His amazing love for me in this place. He tells me I am Beloved. I make sure to not have any kind of distractions from technology during this time.
  • As much as is possible, I focus on enjoying the stillness with my constant companions: The Holy Trinity.

In this place I find strength, hope, calmness, and always Divine love that will carry me and change me more into becoming the woman God intends me to be. There’s no place I’d rather be during these moments than resting and abiding in that love.

“You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence” Isaiah 30:15

What about you? Do you need to rest in quietness with Jesus? How much do you need that quiet rest in Him today? If this place of quiet is not something you make time for, would you be willing to begin with just 5 minutes a day? What would that look like? When would be your best time?

 

 

 

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Resilience of the Pink Calla Lily

 

My mother died October 23, 2014, almost 5 years ago. The amazing people my husband works with sent a beautiful plant in memory of her death. I wasn’t sure what kind of plant it was, but it looked somewhat like a Peace Lily. I’d had Peace Lilies before and knew they were quite hardy. So, I just gave it water…..every once in a while. However, my care must not have been what was needed since the leaves started turning brown so I took it outside and just left it. I left it out of sight since I knew it was withering away. It’s beside our AC unit, so it couldn’t be an eye sore when it finally lost all of its leaves. That original plastic pot became weathered and now has broken cracked pieces in various places. It still out of sight, and out of my mind.

So, can you imagine my shock when in May green leaves started sprouting up out of that years-old pot of dirt! A lot of leaves!! Then, much to my surprise a gorgeous pink flower popped out. I knew it was not like the flower from a Peace Lily. I had no idea what kind of flower it was, but after investigating, I discovered it was a Calla Lily. This flower was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life. That Calla Lily flower popping out on May 30, 2019, was a God-gift to me. This flower came at a time when my heart was sad as I was remembering the two year anniversary week of the death of my sister, Kimberly, as well as another sad event of the previous year. That Calla Lilly continued to bloom. Not only was there one flower, but many.

God spoke much to me as I watched something come alive that I thought was dead. He used this plant to remind me that just because I saw and thought something dead didn’t mean it was. Why? Because God is the life-giver, the life re-newer, the life-sustainer. Nature is held in His hands and so am I. So are you. We are never ever separated from Him who breathed life in us. His breath still breathes into us every day. This is what matters. As long as there’s breath in our body we can rest assured that beauty and vibrance is still there that can pop out every day. There’s never a reason to give up.

When I can’t sense God’s movement in my life, He’s still moving. He’s still loving, He’s still making, He’s still forming. And, He still says, “It is very good.” Kristi, too, can say, “It is very good.” So can you.

What good things do you need to thank Him for today? He is there and He is not silent. You can definitely thank Him for that!

Celebrate Today

 

 

Two years ago today, we celebrated with family and friends the life of my fiery, bigger than life, beautiful red-headed sister, Kimberly. This service was not called a funeral. We never spoke of it in that way. It was a Celebration of Life service.  The burial took place during the morning hours, the Celebration in the afternoon.

We celebrated Kimberly’s life, but more than that, we celebrated the life of Jesus in her. He is the One who spoke life into her. He was her joy and her strength. We chose songs to sing that meant the most to her: The God of Angel Armies, Great Are You Lord, Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here, and No Longer Slaves to Fear. These are all songs related to the reasons we can celebrate life even when walking through dark shadowed times.

Kimberly focused on living bravely, in a celebratory fashion, so beautifully right up to the moment she left this earth. She is one that lived well and died well. I can’t help but think of the second verse of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

Taking, as He (Jesus) did, this sinful world, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will.

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life.

And supremely happy with Him

Forever and ever in the next.

What is the will of our Father God? He desires that we celebrate something about life every day. How do we do this?

The key is living in the present. Living in the present embraces the truth that in each day there are moments to enjoy and even relish. The enemy of living present is living in the past. We do this by wishing things were still as they used to be. We long for those “good times.” But living in the past is dangerous because there were bad and hurtful things there, too. We can get stuck there wrestling with the “whys” and “what if’s”. Kimberly could have dwelled on many whys and what if’s, but she determined to live in the present.

So what kinds of things can I celebrate in the day I have? This is something I’m working hard on. How can I find those things? It’s about awareness. It’s an awareness that finds ways to celebrate the fact that I am alive and breathing. Kimberly never wanted to have to walk around toting a can of oxygen with an oxygen tube in her nose, but she surrendered to it beautifully and was she ever thankful!! She could breathe easier! She could still do life! She was tickled pink that the technician gave her enough tubing attached to the tank so she could walk all around the house. She rejoiced in how nice and kind that technician was in setting it all up in her house. She even said, “I’ve got to contact the company he works for and tell them what a great job he’s doing for people.”

I remember my father-in-law in his prayer before each evening meal saying, “Thank you, God, for this another beautiful day.” Is every day full of beauty? Well . . . maybe not, but, yes, there is much beauty around me every day. Sometimes I’ve just been unaware. Living in the present, even in the midst of pain, I’m discovering these things of beauty that I’d missed before and they are taking me to deeper sacred places in my own soul, in my relationship to God, and with others.

Sometimes it’s even seeing “old things” in a new way. As I experience delighting in seeing these new things and giving thanks to the One who gives good things to enjoy I’m beginning to celebrate life in ways I’d not known before. I’m more able to soak up and enjoy the goodness of the Lord and others in this place of joy. All of a sudden God creates in me a playful spirit full of gladness and freedom to be me as He truly intends.

What can you celebrate today? How are you going to celebrate?

Eight Essentials for Embracing Life

 

 

 

 

It’s February. Just last week I took down the last few Christmas decorations in our house. They are the decorations that look both Christmassy and wintery. I love the wreath I always place above the fireplace that has beautiful silver Christmas ornaments that sparkle and shine. Yes, it’s hard to believe it will be back up in less than a year.

As I put the wreath back up in the attic, I know it’s time to say good-bye to 2018. I realize I’m a little slow in this, but it really doesn’t matter. There’s a time table that’s just right for each of us which even includes holiday decorating: the putting up, and the taking down.  I know I’m just now strong enough to embrace the newness that awaits me in 2019. I’m prepared to walk strong again with the essential elements that are needed in order to embrace life with gusto.

What are the needed essentials for embracing the days ahead that breathe life back into me, into you, especially if we happen to be one who feels like the wind has been knocked out of us?

1.     Get alone with God in solitude. This place of stillness allows us to be aware of His presence. In this space we have the opportunity to be more aware of His perfect and unconditional love that is life-giving and life-changing.

2.     Be mindfully grateful throughout the day for blessings that are around us. They are there even when we are in a place of emotional or physical distress. If possible, write them down.

3.     Choose not to focus on failures or misfortunes of the past year that we have caused or that have come through the actions of others. Focus on what has been learned through the struggle and on creating a new vision of what God’s plan is that is good and that brings Him glory.

4.     Spend time with friends and family in community. Make sure time is with those who are life-giving. These are ones with whom you can be your authentic self. It’s a place of love, acceptance, and safety.

5.     Value others. We show how much we value and love one another through being intentional in kind and thoughtful deeds and encouraging words. Even something we may consider being small can have an incredible and significant impact on someone.

6.     Read portions of scripture every day in a way that is transformational. We will know transformation is real when we see ourselves moving to deeper places of worshipping God. We also see it’s real when we observe that our heart is being changed in ways that display more of the character of Jesus.

7.     Care for our physical well-being through getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night, eating healthy meals and snacks, and being active through some type of physical activity 4-5 times a week.

8.     Be on the look-out for small or big opportunities that allow us some whole –hearted adventure.

More Room for Jesus

 

It’s the season of Advent: the time when we prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to spend most of our time on things that can take our focus off of Jesus and can zap our energy in a way that can leave us feeling simply empty and fatigued.  

We spend time scurrying around getting everything ready for this special day. We plan gatherings with our family and friends.  We decorate, we bake, we clean, we shop, we attend programs or participate in programs, we travel, we host. It’s a lot of “doing”. I find that we can be so busy with the “doings” that we can miss the heart of what Christmas is really all about. We can prepare everything except the most important thing which is the preparing of our hearts. For this is where He abides.  He desires to have all of our heart, not just a small portion, not the smallest room.  

 So what can we do to make more room in our hearts for Jesus? As I was pondering this question, a word that I don’t really like to think about popped into my mind. That word is surrender. It is in surrender that we make more room for Jesus to abide.

 A few weeks ago in my time of solitude with God I took some intentional time to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to my soul about the things I needed to surrender. It didn’t take too long to list at least ten things that I needed to let go of in surrender. They were things I thought I had at least a little control over, or at least a right to hold onto.  But, I realized I really didn’t. I wrote down each thing on a separate piece of paper and put each one, prayerfully in a little box I now call my “surrender box”. I knew that in doing this, I was making more room in my heart for Jesus. Hopefully, it helped me have more of Him and less of me.

 I do a home fitness program called “21 Day Fit Fitness”. One of the first exercises on one of the fitness days is called “surrenders”. How I dislike that particular exercise!  I am relieved when it is over! However, I do know that this is a strength training exercise and it does make my physical body stronger.

We become spiritually stronger when we surrender to God the things that are weighing us down. These things take up a lot of space in our minds. It’s a space that can be filled with peace instead of anxiety. It’s a space that can be filled with joy instead of despair. It’s a place that can be filled with thanksgiving instead of self-pity. It’s a space that can be filled with faith instead of uncertainty. It’s a space that can be filled with love instead of harshness.

Just this morning, God revealed yet another thing that I needed to surrender to Him. I must admit, my heart is lighter. My heart is more joyful. My heart is more peaceful. My heart is more grateful.

 How about you? What is God asking you to surrender as you prepare you heart for Christmas?

 

Hope in Affliction and Sorrow

I am behind in various things. One of the areas where I fell behind was getting a blog out on October 23. For the past three years I’ve written a blog that honored the anniversary date of Mother’s death. The blog always centers on the last hour I spent with Mother on the day she died. And, it centers on something else: God and His Word.

I spent almost a month in Texas that October. Three of those weeks were at Mother and Daddy’s house. Mother had battled with Alzheimer’s disease for 8 years. She was in her final days. Hospice kept saying we didn’t have much time left with her. Most of the time during those last weeks, she was peaceful, there was very little pain. What a blessing that was.

Every morning after I awoke, I’d go into her room and check on her. Usually Daddy was still asleep in his bed next to her hospital bed, so I’d slip back out, go grab a cup of coffee and return to my room to spend quiet moments with God. However, on this particular morning four years ago, Daddy woke up early and went on into the den to read the paper. Since I wasn’t interrupting his sleep, I decided to just sit there with Mother.

For some reason, I opened my Bible to Psalm 119. And, for some reason I decided to read it out loud. It’s a long Psalm, but I read it all. I tired of sitting pretty quickly, so I walked around her room and read. I’d read sections at a time and then pray. These were powerfully sacred moments. They are moments I will never forget. Just as I finished the last verse, she took her last breath. At that moment her spirit left this earth and she was in the presence of her beloved Jesus.

A part of honoring Mother’s going “home to Jesus day”, is reading again the 176 verses of Psalm 119. I read these verses always anticipating that there will be a theme that will leap off of the pages. This year the theme is affliction and sorrow. The Psalmist knows life has afflictions and sorrows. He has first hand knowledge. He knows where help is found: The Word of God.

  • My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.
  • My soul melts away for sorrow: strengthen me according to your word.
  • This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.
  • I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
  • Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.

We can be laid low in the dust as we grieve the death of precious loved ones. But, there are other things that bring intense sorrow and affliction too: exhaustion, burnout, confusion, broken relationships, shame, loneliness, debilitating illness, divorce, natural disasters, shattered dreams, job losses, addictions, sin, aging. The list could go on and on. Sorrow and affliction bring chaos and heart pain that can be indescribable. We’re never ready for these life altering events. We may find ourselves asking these questions: How will I get through this? Is there any hope? Will I ever find comfort?

Because of God, there is help. There is comfort. There is hope. His light will burst back through and lift us up from our broken state. It’s a given that we have seasons of suffering, but God in His marvelous goodness lifts us out of our despair. He uses His Word to give us back what seems has been lost for a season: The Joy of our salvation, Peace that passes all understanding, abundant Grace that keeps our eyes on Him.

As I’m passing through a new affliction, not having any idea of where this journey will take me, I cling to Jesus. I cling to hope. I cling to comfort from the Word, especially these words from Psalm 23: His rod and His staff, they comfort me.

What are some words of comfort you cling to during seasons of affliction?

Always Present-It Matters!

 

Tennessee has now been my home for 23 years. I was born in Texas and didn’t leave until I was 25, which means I’m still a Texas girl at heart. The saying “you can take a girl out of Texas, but can’t take Texas out of the girl” surely rings true for me. With family in Texas, I periodically make trips out there.

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to Amarillo to spend some time with my dad. With no direct flight from Nashville, I had a layover in Dallas. As I checked in at the gate to board the plane, a very quick encounter with a friendly Southwest agent helped me experience the importance of a name. On that day, it was my name that had importance.

It was really a little thing, but it made me feel that I mattered. I was present, really present, in someone’s eyes who didn’t even know me. What did he do? He said my name. “Have a good flight, Kristi,” he said. This agent took the time to actually look at my name on my boarding pass, then look at me and actually say my name. In those brief moments, he was present. He did this for everyone when he scanned their boarding pass.

I couldn’t help but think of how God is always present with us. We matter to Him. He is always attentive to us. He knows our names. Isaiah 41:16 declares, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 43:1 proclaims, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” His presence – what a gift!

I also know that in order for spiritual growth to happen in me, I must be attentive to Him. And His desire is for me to also be attentive to others that are in my life, no matter how brief that encounter may be. Being fully present for each person in my path is a gift I can offer. Is this easy? Absolutely not! It’s so easy to be partially present with others and partially present with God. My mind easily drifts away to many other things. It can happen so quickly. I can be completely unaware.

There are many ways we can practice being present with God and with others. The first step to living fully in the moment with God, and with those precious ones he places in our lives, is discovering what distracts us from really being present. It’s a courageous and selfless act to place ourselves in the position of this kind of self-awareness. We may not like what we see. And, we may not want to put forth the effort it takes to embrace what we find. But, it is worth it. There’s great joy and inner peace to be found in this place. This is living out being a part of Christ’s Kingdom work here on Earth.

What are common distractions that keep you from being present with God and with others? What occasional distractions impact your life and throw you off track (out of presence)? Maybe some are yearly or seasonal. Name some of them. What can you learn through them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Every June I have the incredible blessing of spending the morning with some children who are attending Vacation Bible School. This special morning occurs on Thursday, the morning after the children have heard the simple, yet profound message of the Cross, from the Children’s pastor.

In this message the children hear the reason God sent His perfect Son, Jesus, to die on the Cross. It was because of Love. Man’s brokenness, which the Bible calls sin, separated us from God. The remedy for restoration with God is Jesus. He is the bridge from God to us.

It’s impossible to be restored to God without understanding sin and understanding that all of us have missed the mark which is perfection. I don’t know about you, but I know about me and I am far from perfection!

There are children who, after hearing the Message of the Cross, want to know more. They want to know how they personally can be in a right relationship with God, through Jesus. Those with these questions are given the opportunity to have a one to one conversation with someone who can provide some of the answers they’re searching for. That’s where I came in . . .

In one conversation with a young girl, I asked, “What are some ways we can and do sin?” I was quite stunned when this young girl said, “Oh, one thing I do is take two hours to do my homework.”

I was ready to jump in and say, “Oh, dear one, that’s not a sin!” But, something told me to just sit and listen. She went on to say that she really could get her homework done a lot quicker. She just didn’t want to. I got kind of bold using this word, but I threw it out anyway. I said, “So, it’s rebellion?” She didn’t bat an eye when she said, “Yes. That’s what it is.”

Out of the mouth of babes I was shown what depth and insight a fifth grader can have. I was reminded through this young girl that that’s the best descriptive word there is for sin: rebellion.

Again, I think of the lesson Jesus was trying to teach adults when He said, “Come to me as little children.” I realized at that moment that children can be a lot more sensitive to understanding that something is not quite right with the human heart. And, we need a rescuer to save us from ourselves.

The Rescuer is Jesus! There is only one way to get it right with God. We must admit we are separated from Him because of our sin and then put our total faith in Jesus who died on the cross. I’m so glad death has lost its sting. It lost its sting because Jesus rose from the dead so that all who put their faith in Him will live with Him forever. Forever begins the moment we put our belief in Him. What a joy it was to look into the eyes of a precious child whose abundant forever began yesterday when she confessed with her mouth that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

How about you? Has your abundant forever begun?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief-A Hard Journey

 

 

It’s good having people in our lives who frequently ask, “How are you really doing?” I’m grateful for family and friends who take me as I am today no matter where I am emotionally. It is hard to admit where these weeks of May 2018 have taken me emotionally, but I know I must.

I remember calling a beloved friend of my sister’s on the day she died, May 26, 2017. I cried out these words, “I didn’t think it would hurt this badly!” She said, “I know.” She did know and she understood. She, too, had lost a cherished younger sibling to the enemy of cancer.

I didn’t think it would hurt this badly because I knew, as did my sister Kimberly, and others knew, that she was going to lose this earthly battle with this wretched disease. I thought somehow that this knowing would help me be more prepared to tell her bye and to accept it, but it didn’t. I also thought that because we are a family of Jesus followers who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when we take our last earthly breath that the next breath will be in Heaven with Jesus that my grief wouldn’t be so intense. But it was.

All in all, I believe I’ve walked this journey of grief in a good and healthy way. It’s been a hard journey, but with God’s care and the help of family and friends, I think I’ve done pretty well. Joy returned. I went with a friend to her cabin in the Smoky Mountains in April. I laughed and shared funny stories about Kimberly with her. I remember thinking, “Kristi, you’re doing quite well! It’s nearly been a year and look at you! You’ve hardly shed any tears during the last weeks. You are in such a good place.” But then, May rolled in. The first week of May I was off on an overseas mission trip. The trip was full of good, life-giving activity. Again, I thought how nice it was that I was doing so well. Then, unexpectedly, during the second week of May grief grabbed me again. I thought it would hold off until this week. It didn’t.

Sunday my pastor took his sermon from Matthew 18, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” He said we are to be child-like, not childish, which means we are to have a child-like faith that comes from humility. This is being totally God-dependent.

On my way home, grief punched me in the gut again. With tears rolling down my face, I knew I was going into a place that seemed very childish. And, in all honesty, I knew God could take it. My heart was throwing a temper tantrum before God as I cried out, “I want my sister back. I miss her so much. This hurt and pain is awful!” A child’s needs are to be met by parents. I know as a parent, I did not always meet my children’s needs in a perfect and loving way, but my Heavenly Father meets His children’s needs in a lovingly perfect and right way. He lovingly listens, He lovingly shows patience. He lovingly shows He understands. He knows I am weak and frail. I admit my weakness and frailty. Perhaps it’s in the admitting of my childishness that I can grow deeper into that child-like faith. When a child falls, the parent reaches down and lifts them up. That’s exactly what my Father God is doing for me today: He’s lifting me back up, and He will do it again and again. Of that I am sure.

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:2-3