Happy New Year! Wherever You Go……

Happy New Year, Freedom Friends!

2013 is officially over, and 2014 is in full swing.

The New Year’s resolutions have been made. We’re excited about a fresh start. Out with the old – in with the new! Right?

Right?

That’s the hope, isn’t it? Isn’t that why we love this season? New Years brings a fresh round of “Change Your _____, Change Your Life!” Have you ever played this game? It begins with “If Only’s”:

If only I lose weight…
If only I move…
If only I find a new job…
If only I found a good partner…

Then my life would change.

Then we might lose the weight, or relocate; we find the job or the new spouse. Usually, we’re not successful. The outcome doesn’t necessarily settle the disillusionment we feel because we thought for sure things would be better “if only.”

Why is that? Because the saying is true:

Wherever you go, there you are

Have you ever thought about what this really means? We get so focused on changing our external circumstances that we forget this simple truth: most external issues flow out of internal issues. So no matter where you go or how much weight you lose, inside you are still you. If we don’t allow God to change the internal, changing the externals will not have the hoped-for result. We will experience the same trials, the same struggles, the same unhelpful thought patterns. We will do the same thing again and again and expect different results.

I started re-reading the book of Joshua today. The Israelites are about to cross the Jordan to head into the Promised Land. God gives Joshua a string of directives and things to remember, ending with, “For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The Israelites had a few things they needed to work on. They needed to trudge forward without fear. They needed to remember the instructions God gave Moses on how to live, meditating on them day and night. They needed to choose courage and not discouragement. And finally, they needed to remember that wherever you go, there God is.

What would happen if in 2014, we played the “Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life” game?

What would happen if we began the New Year focused on who He is rather than who we want to become?

How about we make it goal to take God at His Word in 2014, no matter what comes our way, meditating on that Word day and night? What if we allow God’s Word and His Holy Spirit to change the internals and allow the external changes to flow out of God remaking us from the inside out? What if we chose hope and courage instead of fear and disillusionment? If we really believed that nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 17:20), and that we are to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), if we truly believe God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9), how drastically different would our lives be?

Wherever you go, there God is.

What about you? What is God speaking to you about your hopes for the new year? 

Monday Morning Meditation: Before I Formed You, I Knew You

“Before I formed you, I knew you.”
Jeremiah 1:5a

Sometimes, life feels totally random. Why am I going through this trial? we ask ourselves.

The way things fall into place (or don’t). The promotion that comes through “too late” (or doesn’t come at all). The risk you took because you thought it was God’s leading that works out marvelously (or doesn’t work out at all).

What makes the difference? Why do we sometimes succeed and sometimes…. not?

This verse from Jeremiah came to mind yesterday, and with them much comfort. Before I formed you, I knew you. This word translated “know” is yadaand it is used in a variety of contexts. It generally means “to know deeply.”

We all have a desire deep within our hearts to be known on an intimate level. Whether or not people know certain things about us can bring shame or relief. And yet Scripture informs us that the Creator of the universe knew us even before He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

My son JJ in my womb

My son JJ in my womb

Before I formed you, I knew you.

My life is not random. The direction I go, the way God leads, the things He asks me to do were planned long before I was even in my mother’s womb. He knew me deeply, and continues to inform my steps as I acknowledge Him in all my ways (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Lord, on this Monday morning, help us to remember that we are known by an all-powerful God who bent down to earth, putting on flesh, in order to rescue us from our shame and hurt. Help us to act known, to walk out the knowledge that You had a plan for us before You formed us, and You are still carrying out that plan, even when we feel directionless. Thank You, Master. We give You our all. We allow You to be “God with us.” We pray in Jesus’ holy and powerful name, amen.

 

Freedom Friday: The Battle for Your Gifts

There is a battle raging.

It’s a battle for your gifts.

It’s a battle for the unique things you have to offer the world.

We hosted a guest worship team at church a few months ago. The worship leader shared something that I’ve been thinking about since then:

“The enemy wants to destroy the call on our lives.”

Oh, friends, how I’ve felt this intimately over the past few months.

I was certain 2012 would be “the year of the book.”

Then, I was positive that it would be done by my 2013 birthday (almost 4 months ago now).

I have lots of excuses.

As I try to grieve the loss of my father in the midst of life carrying on…

As I fill out death-related paperwork that I’ve put off until the last minute…

As I once again try and stuff my emotions with food (something I’m quite good at, apparently)…

And God is His faithfulness keeps poking me, every month or so.

You know, my love, I still want you to finish that book.

Sometimes He’s not so gentle. In fact, He told me in December (yes, almost 9 months ago) to get over myself because the book isn’t really about me anyway. It’s about Him. It’s not about how awesome I am (because Lord literally knows that apart from Him – yeah, not much to impress anything); it’s about how awesome He is.

Well, the book is at the copy editor, and all I have left to do is write the back cover.

It has been a battle.

God has given you something unique, something particular that He wants you to offer to the world.

What is stopping you? The enemy? The negative self-talk? All the excuses about why we’ll do it later?

Here’s the thing about your gifts: they’re not for you anyway.

You may not think you have much to offer. Well, that’s a lie. That is where the battle rages because that’s exactly the position Satan wants you to stay in. Satan easily convinces us that we can’t make an impact and thus paralyzes us from doing the little (or lot) that we can do.

It’s time to declare war on the lies you believe.

“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)

What is standing in the way of using your gifts today? What can you do today as a step of obedience toward God and what He might be calling you to do?

Freedom Friday: Living Your Amazing Without Suffocating

The world was heartbroken this week by another star, taken too soon.

Some people were simply annoyed by all the press this specific person was getting. What about the members of the military who were killed or injured in battle this week? What about family members who died from addiction? Were these people any less important?
But all the press made me stop and think: why?
Why was the world so swept up in the death of someone most of us never even saw in person, much less really knew?
I believe the reason we are so torn up about stars who die is that there was something amazing about them.

Amazing vocalist.
Amazing songwriter.
Amazing actor.

Amazing inventor.

They had found the thing God created them to do, something I refer to as their “amazing”, and it was powerful.
They wore their amazing on their sleeve for the world to see. Their amazing was breath-taking, soul-wrenching at times, and inspiring.

Here’s the thing.

1. We all have amazing in us.
That doesn’t mean we will all be famous, or well-known, or what the world would label “amazing”. It means we were created uniquely, with specific gifts that only we have to offer to the world. We can all be world-changing in whatever sphere of influence God gives us by allowing the amazing in us to surface and be developed.
“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.” Psalm 139:13-14

God knows what your amazing is because He put it in you. Don’t seek to find your amazing; rather seek God & His kingdom first “and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

2. Ready yourself for your amazing.
We need to have a certain level of maturity and foundation of faith in order to be able to handle our amazing.
I shared some months ago in this blog post that as I searched to find God’s will for my life, sought to find my own amazing, God spoke some hard words to me: you’re not ready to receive it.
God clearly told me, in His gentle and loving way, that I did not have the foundation of faith or strength of character I needed in order to walk in the fullness of who He created me to be.
So how do we ready ourselves? If Jesus has truly given us everything we need for life & godliness, what else can we do?

We can surrender. We can remember not to think too highly OR too lowly of ourselves. We can use the example of Philippians 2, looking out for others’ interests as well as our own, and having the attitude of Jesus.
We can follow the directive in 2 Peter 1 to add to our faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.

We can gather folks around us to pray for us and help us discern God’s voice.

We can prepare ourselves so that as God reveals our amazing to us, we are ready.

3. Don’t let your amazing suffocate you.
Use your amazing for good. Remember that your amazing was given to you by God, and it needs to be continually given back to God. God is our sustainer; He alone stoops down to make you great.
Rely on God’s strength. When we stop allowing God to sustain us, very dangerous things can happen. I was reminded of this when I recently read 2 Chronicles 16, where King Asa stops relying on God for success. I prayed upon reading that that I wouldn’t get stubborn and obstinate in my old age and forget to rely on God.
Finding your amazing can lead to striving. We feel once we’ve found that thing we were created to do that we must do something to somehow feed and encourage it. Once again, we need the reminder that God alone is our sustainer. Even Paul had a thorn in his flesh to remind him that God’s grace was sufficient.
In so many lives, we have seen that the journey to one’s amazing can be suffocating.
It doesn’t have to be.
Let your amazing drive you to God. Allow it to humble you and send you minute by minute to the foot of the cross. Even when it becomes natural, almost second nature, to walk in your amazing, declare daily that apart from Jesus, you can do nothing (John 15:5).
4. Prepare to be amazed.
As I was listening to a testimony of a man’s journey to Jesus a few months ago, I was humbled to my core. The ways God is able to move took my breath away. A thought popped into my mind:
“If you are not amazed, you are not paying attention.”
God is amazing. He wants to do amazing things in you and through you and in the lives of those around you.
Pay attention, if you’re not already. Thank God for what He’s done and what He will do. Praise Him simply for who He is. Declare your gratitude for His continual working in you. Remind God of His Word; Psalm 138 says “for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name.”
The Psalm continues:

“The LORD will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever.
Don’t abandon me, for you made me.” Psalm 138:8

Amen.

Ask God today to prepare you to find your amazing, if you haven’t already. Ask Him to show you your blind spots and how to use His strength in those areas. And get ready. It’s a wild ride; prepare to be amazed.

Freedom Friday: Make The Time

I want to use today’s post to check in about your focus roles and priorities for 2012.

I will share at the end of this post how some of my 2012 goals are progressing. How about you?

As I’ve reflected on past goals I’ve achieved, I’ve been asking myself: why? Why did some goals get ignored? Why were others achieved?

One goal I made back in 2005 was to take a ballet class. I had always wanted to take ballet as a child. I did take some jazz & modern dance, as well as theater dance (tap & jazz) in college. But I just always wanted to see what a ballet class was like.

This was a goal in 2004 as well. I did not achieve it that year. Why? I did not make time for it. Carving out time in an evening when you are a campus missionary and a leader of a non-profit is not easy! But in 2005, I decided it was a priority, and after years of hoping to do this, I made the time. It was a fantastic and affirming experience.

In the book Getting Things Done (one of the books I’m reading this year), author David Allen says “you don’t manage priorities; you have them.”

Those things that are priorities for us, we will make time for.

If you’re a football fan, I bet you had no trouble fitting the past play-off games and this Sunday’s Superbowl into your schedule! If you love to eat, you don’t have any challenges fitting in 3 meals a day, or finding the time to get to your favorite restaurant.

I never really committed to running until two things happened. First, I learned the major exhaustion I was experiencing (that was likely due to something called “adrenal fatigue”) could be greatly helped by regular, vigorous exercise. Second, I needed to maintain a 50 pound weight loss that I had worked hard to achieve.

I made the time for running because I needed to.

My fatigue issues have improved by about 90%. I barely notice it anymore, above and beyond the normal fatigue of a mom whose kids don’t sleep through the night! It is now normal for me to get up at 5 or earlier (today, I was up at 4:36) to meet folks for a run or go solo. I have found I need less sleep when I run regularly. I also not only maintained my weight loss and lost 10 more pounds.

I made the time for running because I decided it was important for me to do so.

“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.” Psalm 39:4

Here are some tips on how to make the time you need to achieve your goals.

1. Analyze your current use of time. We all have the same number of hours in the day. All those hours have the same 60 minutes. God calls us to be good stewards of the time He gives us. Try carrying around a notebook for a day. Note what time you get up, and what you do for each 15 minute increment from that point on. Yes, that sounds a bit anal, but just try it. I remember how eye-opening it was when my husband & I started using a virtual envelope system, and I realized how much money we were spending in certain categories. 15 minutes 3 times a day on Facebook is 45 minutes. This exercise will likely be quite enlightening.

2. Prioritize your free time. What did the exercise above show you about your free time? I read recently that most Americans have 3-5 hours of free time a day. It likely doesn’t feel that way to you! Ask yourself from the exercise above: how much time do you spend putzing? On Facebook? Twitter? Your smart phone? Watching TV? Is there forced down time (like your commute) that could be used to accomplish your goals? Some examples of my forced down time is when I’m getting my kids to sleep or hanging out with them on the couch. I can write on my laptop or read a book while they watch a movie. We do not need to schedule every minute. That said, I know I feel better emotionally when I have stopped myself from getting drawn into a black hole of time wasted.

3. Create more time. Get up earlier. Go to bed earlier. Say no to things that you don’t have to say yes to and would rather not be doing. Be careful not to overbook yourself or your kids.

Here’s the status of some of my 2012 goals.
1. Keep my iPhone inbox below 50 emails (that’s 50 total for 5 email addresses).
Check. I have been able to do this every day, including when I was out of town and only had internet access on my phone.

2. Cut out food dyes, corn syrup, dairy & wheat, as well as most pre-packaged, processed foods. Cut down on grains.
Making slow progress here. I brought the boys a treat from my trip: green apple gummy bears! Definitely not food-dye free! I’m doing more cooking and baking grain-free.

3. Run 100 miles per month through the winter. Consider what other races I should do.
4. Run a half marathon at a :30/mile faster pace than my 1st half marathon, which I ran with a 10:08 pace.
I did 120.54 miles in January. Looking into some races. I also ran 13.46 miles (slightly longer than a half marathon) at a 9:19 pace, which is faster than my goal for my next half marathon.

7. Create a 4 week meal plan every month and follow it.
Check.

9. Continue daily Bible reading. 2 days a week, get up at running time to read the Bible, pray, journal & be silent.
Check.

12. Read & finish 25-30 books in 2012. That’s just over 2 books a month. This includes books I’ve started and not yet finished.
2 books done in January. Check.

I only commented on the goals that I made significant progress on. You can go to my original post to see the ones I’m still working on.

What do you need to make the time for today? What can you make the time for right now, in the next 5 minutes? What is draining time from your day?

Freedom Friday: Are Your Dreams Asleep?

“Once upon a time there was a funny dog named Crispin’s Crispian. He was named Crispin’s Crispian because – he belonged to himself.”


This is the beginning of one of our favorite children’s stories, Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself.

My husband discovered this book at the grocery store when my oldest was just a toddler. My kids loves this book. Love it. Ideally, they would like for me to read it 15 times a day.

In the book, Crispin’s Crispian meets a little boy in his travels. They cook dinner together and the boy moves into Crispian’s little house.

The final pages of the book describe them cleaning up after dinner and heading to bed. “He [Mr. Dog] curled up in a warm little heap and went to sleep. And he dreamed his own dreams.”

I couldn’t help but think of Mr. Dog as I watched Bob Hamp’s “A Kingdom Parable” teaching this week. He tells the story of how a young man discovers who God created him to be (he’s an acrobat). At the end of the parable, Bob describes how people react to seeing this young man’s acrobatic feat.

He describes the audience as people whose hearts have gone to sleep, and are coming alive as they witness someone who is stepping into exactly who they were made to be. The people go home, and tie ropes to trees. They pick up those music lessons that have been forgotten for too long. Others simply go back to what they used to do when their dreams were still alive.

Has this ever happened to you?

Sometimes, I go to a show, I hear good music, and it inspires me to write. I’ve written some of my most honest and powerful songs this way. Other times, I hear an inspirational speaker talk about something that exhilarates me, and I go home and write a blog post.

I walked away from this Bob Hamp teaching and felt God put a question on my heart.

Are your dreams asleep? Is your heart asleep?

In the acrobat parable, the young man’s father says to him something that struck me as a profound truth. There are some things hidden in your heart that you will never discover if you don’t push yourself enough to find it.

I’ve written elsewhere on how to keep your dreams alive. I’ve also written about how God refines us and gives us the desires of our hearts. Those posts might be helpful resources.

Part of learning to walk in freedom, part of learning to become the person God created you to be is fanning those dreams that He has given you. It’s infusing hope into them when there is no visible reason to hope.

“He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:7-8 (NLT)

Ask yourself today: are my dreams asleep? What dreams are hidden in my heart, things I’ve seen glimpses of, but have been afraid to dig deeper and discover their fullness? Have I, or the enemy, squelched and buried the dreams and hopes God had conceived in us? Is it because they seem too big, too wild, too unrealistic?

“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 3:20 (NLT)

Do I believe that God is able? Do I believe that God is not only able, but willing? Not just willing, but that He has a deep desire to bless me and love on me and see my dreams come true?

Unlike Mr. Dog, we do not belong to ourselves. We belong to God. And we find out who we are by staring into His eyes and seeing ourselves reflected in Him. We discern who He created us to be by diving into His heart and resting in Him. We discover the power to keep our dreams alive in His presence.

Wake up your dreams today. Get out your journal and remind yourself of what they are. Position yourself in a warm little heap in God’s lap and allow Him to redeposit those dreams into your heart (I envision this involving hot cocoa with marshmallows for some reason).

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:4 (NLT)

Two resources that might be helpful in assisting you in this exercise: The Kiss of Heaven by Darlene Zschech and Holy Discontent by Bill Hybels.

Dream your own dreams, the ones God has given you. You are dear to God, and your dreams are His gift to you. Nurture those dreams as you would care for delicate gift from a dear loved one.

Freedom Friday: The Desires of My Heart

What are the desires of your heart?

The longings? The dreams?

What are you passionate about? What drives you?

As I wrote this, I asked myself this question: what are the desires of my heart today?
-To be a patient and kind mom.
-To be a loving and encouraging wife.
-To be a faithful and prayerful friend.
-To model God’s love & freedom to those around me.

At a leadership meeting for the ministry I work with, we all wrote a life purpose statement. I wrote this almost a year ago: “To see the Church & its individuals learn to walk in the fullness of freedom that is available to every follower of Jesus Christ, finding healing in the context of community, through music & teaching, and seeing themselves reflected in the image of God and the cross.”

Yep, that still about sums it up.

Psalm 37 was read in church a few weeks ago. My eyes were opened to the fullness of all this psalm speaks of, and even all it asks of us.

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the LORD (NASB says “Rest in the LORD”) and wait patiently for him.

We can get really caught up on verse 4 because we like verse 4. I like verse 4 as well! I want the desires of my heart to be fulfilled. But when I focus on verse 4 alone, I lose sight of all the other things God would like us to do.

Trust.
Do good.
Dwell.
Enjoy.
Delight.
Commit.
Trust.
Be still.
Rest.
Wait.

Yikes. That’s intense.

If you had asked me a decade ago what the desires of my heart were, some would have been the same as today; some would have been different. As God has grown me and refined me, as I am slowly becoming the person He originally created me to be, my heart has changed in some ways, and in others remains the same.

What I think I want isn’t always good. Some of what I want is just plain selfish. Other desires may seem unnecessary or frivolous, but God cares about those, too. I was once told that God was too busy doing important things to answer my “small” prayer request. It wasn’t small to me, and so I kept asking (and He did grant my request eventually).

When I choose to trust God (this short passage tells me to do that twice), when I enjoy Him & dwell in Him, when I am still before Him, resting in Him, waiting on Him, when I am good to His creations, when I commit myself and my ways to Him, I am changed. My heart is changed to be more like His. My desires are sometimes even changed.

I started this blog post a few weeks ago. I opened my saved drafts this morning, and this was on top. I needed to be reminded of this psalm today. The week has been challenging, and a dream I have, a God-given dream, is slow in coming to fruition. I start asking myself, “Is God’s timing really perfect? Can people’s choices mess with God’s will? Will someone stand in the way of my dreams?”

I needed the reminder to stop. Be still. Rest. Commit. Trust. I know that I know that I know that God is good. He doesn’t give His kids stones when we ask for bread. He just doesn’t! I am once again presented with a choice: a choice to trust in Him. To trust in His goodness, His faithfulness. To trust in His character. To give my heart with its sometimes broken and sometimes God-given desires back to Him, let Him shape it some more, and wait for Him.

Today I will trust in the Lord. Over & over. I will do good – to my kids, my husband, my family, friends and even strangers. I will dwell, enjoy, delight, commit, and choose to trust again, as I rest in Him & wait on Him.