It All Adds Up, or Does It?

 

 

 

I taught elementary school and remember the words used to teach subtraction. We use words like take away, decrease, reduce, and fewer than to teach the concept.  Before we learned subtraction, we learned addition. Addition was easier to teach than subtraction. We all like the idea of having more than having less.

There’s another kind of subtraction that happens which has nothing to do with math. It has to do with life. We have experienced reductions of all kinds since the tentacles of the COVID 19 began wrapping its ugly and vicious arms around us in different ways, some large, some small. Our lives have been altered.

How do we lessen the tight grip those tentacles have around us?  We can loosen that grip through addition. We make sure we add right things into our lives. The plan is different for each of us depending upon where we live and our season of life. Even our personality and spirituality play a part in the “adding” back.  I was delighted when told that my Yoga class had opened back up! Sure there was a bit of fear, but those fears were alleviated after I observed and experienced the precautions taken to keep us safe during this workout.

I had four summer trips planned. That was reduced to one. That “one” was the just right one. Blessings abounded!

As Jesus followers we are always in a place where we can make additions that make us more whole, complete, and joyfully satisfied. “Make every effort to add to your faith virtue and to virtue knowledge.” 2 Peter 1:5. Adding virtue (moral excellence and goodness) leads to virtuous living which shows itself to be authentic as we bless others through gracious acts of goodness.  Adding this kind of knowledge refers to a knowing that brings wisdom and discernment.  If we don’t see faith, virtue, and knowledge increasing then we are not maturing. We are underdeveloped. Our quality of life will be diminished.

Where do you see yourself today? How are you adding into your life the right things that will prosper your own well-being as well as the lives of others? What reductions have actually been good? Which ones have caused harm or great distress

The Way to Live-The Way to Leave

 

In September of 2018 while on a spiritual retreat in Colorado, I peeked at Messenger. It was the kind of retreat where we were asked to put all technology aside, but I did happen to glance at my phone and saw something from my cousin, Greg. We lived 1000 miles apart which made keeping in touch difficult. Because it was unusual for him to message me, I knew it had to be something important. It was. He was asking for prayer. He had passed out in a restaurant which landed him in the hospital for testing. The doctors feared he had leukemia. The fear was confirmed.

Greg was a farmer. A friend has the right word to describe farmers: tough. Yes, farmers are tough. Greg had strength and toughness. But, he had something else, too: gentleness and a great capacity to love and spread joy. He poured out that love and joy to his teenage daughter, Sydney. He couldn’t bear leaving her. She’d already lost her mother 9 years ago. So, Greg fought hard for one and a half years. Two weeks ago yesterday, his final earthly battle was done.

I called Greg frequently during his stay at MD Anderson in Houston. His stay was long: eleven months. Our conversations were gifts to me. I remember one of his comments, “It’s a win-win, no matter what happens.” He said those words with joy and assurance. He could say them because he knew he had the hope of Heaven awaiting him. He knew that’s where he was headed, either sooner or later. Of course, he desired later, but he was entrusting it all to Jesus whom he loved and had given his life to years earlier.

God, through His goodness, grace, and mercy provided a way for me to attend Greg’s memorial service. Actually, God worked a miracle in order for me to be there. Yes, there was intense sadness for Sydney, Greg’s mother (my precious 90-year-old Aunt Nancy) and Greg’s brother, Mike. And, sorrow for all the rest of us who loved Greg. But, what we received from the memorial service gave comfort and even joy.

The pastor and shepherd, Rick, who’d spent much time with Greg, shared what Greg whispered into his ear one of the last times he saw Greg. Greg’s declared, “It is well with my soul.” How could Greg say that? He knew Who he belonged to and what he had to look forward to. It’s evident he’d surrendered everything which included his every breath to the keeper of his soul: Jesus.

Greg left the proof that he’d surrendered it all. This proof was included in the words he wrote that were read at the funeral: “Everyday God gives us is a blessing. When I’m gone I’ll be with him. What a blessing.” In these words printed on the memorial program, Greg again affirmed, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

This proof was also in the words of the two songs Greg wanted sung: “When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary, when troubles come, and my heart burdened be. Then, I am still and wait here in the silence until You come and sit awhile with me. You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, You raise me up to walk on stormy seas, I am strong when I am on your shoulders, You raise me up to more than I can be.” And then the song Even If by Mercy Me “. . . I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t my hope is You alone.”

Greg left us in a way that brought glory and honor to the One who made him. Greg’s hope was in Christ and him alone. He breathed his last breath knowing all was well with his soul.

Questions we must answer: How is my soul today? How will my soul be the day I take my last breath?

What we do right now in this very moment will determine the answer.

From Silence to Hope-Darkness to Light

 

 

 

Have you ever been in a meaningful relationship that went silent? I have. Sometimes this silence means the relationship has ended so we work through the “closure” knowing we must accept it and move on. We finally come to the place of knowing it was for the best. But, there are other times we just know the relationship is something of great value that needs to be resurrected so we wait, we hope, we pray, we believe. We want to also watch, but at times there’s not much to watch because of the physical or emotional distance that has resulted. It’s in that place that it is so easy to give up because of the deafening silence.

There was a time in Biblical history where everything went silent. This was an era of Silence. Ever since Noah, God had provided someone who spoke God’s message to others. Then it stopped – for over 400 years. However, if we do some historical study of this time period we see that a lot was happening. God was not inactive. He was at work. All things were falling into place, good and bad, preparing the way for the greatest miracle of all times to spring forth: the birth of the long awaited Messiah, Jesus. God broke through the silence and this breaking through changed everything. It’s because of this that we have hope that relationships that need renewing and remaking can really happen. God is the expert – he knows what needs to happen and when it needs to happen for rebirth to occur.

Recently in my place of quiet God reminded me of Isaiah 64:4, a scripture I’d memorized many years ago: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” Have you been waiting and longing for something to happen that has seemed impossible? I have. I have prayed, hoped, believed, waited, and wrestled with God. Now . . . some light is breaking through. God is allowing me to get a peek at what He’s been up to, however, all is not yet as it should be. But I will keep waiting, watching, and knowing that at just the right moment in time God will let me see what He’s been up to all along. In this “all along time,” I can trust he is doing some major repair work in me that is conforming me into more of the likeness of His perfect Son, Jesus. I can trust in the greatness and goodness of God in all things. He is working on my behalf and on yours. We can rest in Him, always being assured that it really is good. We must never lose hope in the waiting.

Gracious Father, enlarge our capacity for waiting patiently today as we pray “For you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God who will answer.” Psalm 38:15

Two thousand years ago God broke the silence. Through Jesus, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2) Where do you need a breakthrough of light today? Where do you need God to speak?

With My Whole Heart

 

It’s hard to believe that five years ago today Mother breathed out her last breath in what had been her earthly home for 80 years. I can’t imagine what that first hello to Jesus must have been like! But, one day I will, of that I am sure.

What a gift it was for me to be there the morning of her earthly good-bye. Because she had battled Alzheimer’s disease, there was joy to see her delivered from the suffering that this disease had wrought. That morning before her departure from us, I read aloud Psalm 119 to her. It was sacred ground. So, for the last four years I’ve re-read this Psalm on this day and written about what stands out to me the most at this time in my life.

The words that have spoken the most to me this year are the words whole heart. I’ve been reading a lot lately about whole hearted living so it’s no wonder that the words whole heart leapt off the pages. “O Lord, teach me how you want me to live! Make me wholeheartedly committed to you!” Psalm 86:11 “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart.” Psalm 119:2 “With my whole heart I seek you.” Psalm 119:10

Giving my whole heart, my whole me to God is not as easy as I’d once thought it would be. There are obstacles to whole hearted living. Two major obstacles are not being authentic and perfectionism. When we put on masks covering up our true selves we end up hiding from God and living a divided life. A divided life makes it impossible to love God and others with my whole heart. Perfectionism is a dead end road. I have believed the lie that to be loved I have to be perfect. Of course it’s a lie! There’s no way I could ever be perfect. I am fallen, I have broken parts. We can believe that being perfect is where acceptance, love, and freedom is found. But it is not. It is bondage!

That bondage keeps us from living and leaning into our belovedness. It does not lead to anything good. I love what someone said about perfectionism in my Journey to Freedom group: “Perfectionism is not an option.” There have been times where I’ve deluded myself into thinking it was an option and even a demand from God. It is not. I am not perfect – I will never be. God knows that and He loves me no matter what.

I’ve been camping out a lot in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5: 1-12. I was delighted to find some amazing insights from Chuck DeGroat in his book “Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self”. He points out that Jesus’ way of ascent is the way of descent. Chuck writes:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit –We are blessed when we realize we are broken. This brings us to the end of ourselves. Jesus meets us in our brokenness. There is an invitation to come out of hiding.
  • Blessed are those who mourn—We are blessed to have a place where we can be present with God to let it all out through grieving and lament.
  • Blessed are the meek —We are blessed when we are humbled and allow our ego to be shattered.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness —We are blessed when we long more than ever for God.
  • Blessed are the merciful—We are blessed when we let ourselves be moved by and for the other.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart —We are blessed when we become whole by living in a place of holiness. We see God. Purity is about a state of well -being that leads to shalom. Shalom is a place of undividedness which is wholeness. Jesus puts us back together again so that our inner place matches our outer place.”

My mother is safely Home. She is now perfectly whole in every way. I’m not there yet. But for now, my desire is to live as fully as possible in a place of whole-hearted living where I can enjoy sweet communion with God and the people I love.

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?

 

 

 

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?

 

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?