Being More Intentional about the Holidays

I looked at the date when I was on Facebook earlier. Not only is today the birthday of a very good friend, it is also the week before Halloween. This started me thinking about the holidays and what they have usually meant for me. I almost sighed audibly. Although my kids aren’t small anymore, I seem to do the same amount of running around in search of the perfect holiday. It is tiring, and there have been years when I’ve been exhausted at the end of December wondering where the time had gone. So naturally, I decided to turn this into a blog post.  🙂 These are the first sentences I wrote in my journal earlier. “Am I really looking forward to this year’s holiday season. I’m not sure at this point. For the last couple of years, I’ve felt like I’ve been slogging through the holidays. Not enough money, not enough time, running around to make sure everything gets done. I don’t want to be like that this year.”

Since I had some time to think about it, these are the thoughts I came up with. During the holidays, I want to be more intentional about my gratitude, about my serving, and about my reflection. It’s not just running around from place to place. It’s treating the whole time as an experience, one I might never have again. And if it’s something I might never have again, shouldn’t I live more in the moment? More in the gratitude. More in the serving. More in the reflection. More in the saying. More in the…playing. Yes, I said it–playing. I’ve heard it said many times that experiencing the holidays through the eyes of a child is the best way to get adults to slow down. I don’t have small children, but I am acquainted with several. In fact, I share a birthday with one of them which is also during this season. I’m looking forward to making memories with them during the next couple of months.

Another way I’m going to be more intentional about the holidays is through my writing. For those of you who don’t know, November is a month where many writers begin and hope to finish at least 50,000 words of a novel. It’s called National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short. It’s been several years since I’ve participated, but this year, this year I need to write the words down, to get this idea out of my head and onto the screen. Writing is how I figure out my world, and the times when I sit down and write are the times I experience the most clarity about the world around me. So, writing during the first part of this holiday will be my second way of being intentional. Now, would I like to get to 50,000 words and finish? Sure, I would. But this year, I want the journey to be about the words and about the story. In other words, to live in the experience while it is happening.

Finally, and most importantly, I will focus on the words of my Lord and Savior as I slow down and really think about what this time of year means to me. It’s not the gifts. It’s not the parties. It’s not even the Christmas tree. I’ve had holiday seasons where there has been plenty of money, and seasons where money has been scarce. The seasons that have been the best though are the seasons I have focused on God–having gratitude for what He has given me and serving where He calls me to serve. Psalm 100 brings all this to mind and more. I leave you with this psalm as you seek your own ways to be more intentional during this holiday season.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Advertisements

Being a Caregiver

I debated about this title when I started this post, and I might change it before finishing, but right now, the title will stay. What image comes to mind when you read the words? For most of us, these words entail someone who is taking care of someone who is no longer able to work. Someone who has one of a myriad of diseases which renders them incapable of living a life we would consider “normal”. Diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia…the list goes on, but I think you get the point.

But, there’s another definition of caregiver. I’ve spoken of this before. It’s taking care of someone who has a chronic condition, but is still able to work. There are days when things are okay, and life is rocking along like it does for the people who have no concerns in this area. And then there are days when things are not okay. Days when a family member is not able to do something because he has given all he has to give. Days when he has to save his energy for what is absolutely necessary and nothing else. And those are the days that hurt–when I appear in public by myself and pretend like everything is okay when it’s not, or when I break down, and people are uncomfortable because I have broken down. I can’t win either way so sometimes, I don’t want to try. I stay at home licking my wounds until I get the courage to try again.

I know it’s confusing to people because of the days that are okay. Days when the family member can give. Days when the family member accepts requests that maybe are unwise, but he feels okay at that moment so he wants to do it. He wants to give instead of having to receive so I bite my tongue, and we walk along until the next crisis.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m okay. The concerns, the worries always lurk beneath the surface. I can’t prevent it. I don’t think anyone could. I must do a pretty good job of pretending though. The other night someone said I do a good job of being a caregiver. The look of disbelief must have shown on my face because she said it was a compliment. I mumbled my way through an answer thinking if she only knew…because there are many days I don’t manage well. Days I have to marshal my own energy reserves to meet the obligations of the next day. Days when I’m just tired and discouraged because something else has gone wrong.

When that happens, I do my best to go back to the well. The well of my Lord and Savior’s living water. The water that never gives out. His water gives me the courage to keep going, the courage to keep giving even when I don’t want to, and the courage to find joy in the little moments. He even gives me the courage to pretend nothing is wrong with me so I can give encouragement to someone else. God is good for that. Jesus, too. There are days when I hang onto God with all my might as I walk through the storms of life.

Depending on God doesn’t mean I don’t need encouragement from someone with a voice and arms. The church, in case you’re wondering. We were created to be the hands and feet of Jesus and the voices and arms too. There are people who have the gift of encouragement, and there are people who well, you can tell they’d rather be somewhere else when you’re talking with them. We all fail in this area, including me. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try though because even if we do encourage imperfectly, it is the start of what Jesus wants us to do as believers while we are still in this world. He doesn’t want us to type a Facebook status in support of something. He wants us to Be His hands; Be His feet; Be His voice; and Be His arms. In other words, Be Jesus to a hurting world!

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

Praying for Our Daily Bread

Many of us learn the Lord’s Prayer early in our believing life and recite it automatically when asked to do so. I’ve recently been challenged by a sermon in which these verses were used and have been convicted to really think about the words when I pray this prayer. Western Christians have a tendency to reflect their culture, and since financial planning is a part of that culture, this is reflected in our work lives, our personal lives, and in our church lives. When we plan in this way, we tend to think that we are responsible for the work we have done and don’t give God the credit where credit is due. We also have more of a tendency to worry when things aren’t going the way we want them to. Like when the price of stock goes down or when the interest rates go down. Or when our salaries don’t meet the expenses of our lives. Or when we want to do something in our churches, and no money is available.

I listened to this minister on Sunday, and when he said that there were people in Third World countries who prayed the Lord’s Prayer asking for their food for the day, something clicked inside my head and my heart. These people weren’t saying this prayer by rote; they meant every word that they said. They did not know where their food was going to come from, and they rejoiced and thanked God when He did provide for them that day. My heart hurt when I heard this. Though I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer by rote. I’ve been worried and anxious when we’ve gone through bad times, and there have been times when I’ve taken care of things on my own and forgotten to thank God when everything turned out all right.

It’s easy to be grateful when we have full pantries and money to pay our bills, and when we’re doing all the things our culture says we should be doing. We’re not depending on God though. We’re depending on ourselves.  And then we judge when we see someone who doesn’t have all the things we have and say that it’s their fault they don’t have a place to live or food to eat. I think I understand better now why Jesus said it was difficult for a rich person to get into heaven. We’re more “worried” about the resources we have here and how to keep them in our hands.

I’ve not made a secret of suffering from depression or anxiety in this blog. I’ve had to hang on to God a lot through the turmoil of my life over the past few years. I’ve  prayed more during the bad times than I have during the good. I don’t want to be so focused on the future anymore though. I think if I can pray the Lord’s Prayer each morning and be focused on each day as it comes, I will have an easier time with my depression and anxiety, and I will remember where my true provision comes from.

I will leave you with the Lord’s Prayer so you can pray for your daily bread as well.

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” – Matthew 6:9-13

 

Inspirational Quotes and What They Mean to Me

Facebook memories can be a funny thing. They can also be one of the things to inspire a blog post as they have this morning. I was looking over my memories earlier and saw that on this date, four years ago, I published a post about writing quotes, https://writewhatyouknowdotorg.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/writing-quote-thursday/. I looked over the post and smiled. It was a fond memory of where I was as a writer four years ago and how far I’ve come since then.

Learning never stops though, and between this Facebook memory and the challenge issued by the writing blog, Positive Writer, http://positivewriter.com/7-inspirational-quotes-that-could-change-your-life/, I thought I would do another quote post today and talk about different quotes and what they mean to me.

I’ve been working on myself this year and how my faith in God brings me closer to the person He wants me to be. It’s a struggle. All of us come to Him with baggage. Heck, all of us have baggage, period. One of my struggles is believing in myself so the quotes I have chosen today reflect this struggle and how far I’ve come. They were all encouraging to me in different ways. Here is the first one.

“We are all unique, and have our own special place in the puzzle of the universe.” – Rod Williams

This reminded me of Psalm 139 which has become my Scripture reading of choice when my confidence lags and my insecurity reigns.

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” – Booker T. Washington

When I think about this quote along with what I’ve had to overcome with my faith, I don’t feel as insignificant to God as I felt on Sunday when my church was doing a ground breaking ceremony. People tell me that I mean a lot to my church, but sometimes I just don’t see it. I know I mean everything to God though, and that is what counts the most.

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human experiment.” – E. E. Cummings

I feel like this is what I’ve done with my blogs over the past four years. I’ve published words I wouldn’t ever say out loud, except maybe in my pastor’s office. 🙂 I’m not successful like the world defines success, but I know God has a purpose in the words I share, and that is the success that means the most.

“Always be yourself, and have faith in yourself.” – Bruce Lee

This is so plain it shouldn’t have to be spelled out, but I’ve had to work on it anyway. I’m the person God made me to be, and He doesn’t want me to change though I have tried.

“You are braver than you believe, smarter than you seem, and stronger than you think.” – Winnie the Pooh

This is my favorite of these quotes. It teaches me to reach beyond my thoughts and feelings about myself and live the way God wants me to. God gave us thoughts and feelings, yes, and we are to express them honestly. But, He also wants us to have our value rooted in Him and no one else.

And finally, the last quote.

“We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.” – Tobias Wolff

For awhile, I forgot how to persist. I’ve been so busy trying to make myself into the person I thought God wanted me to be that I lost track of who I actually was. No more though. My words are who I am and writing them down is my best way of honoring my God-given gifts and being true to myself and the person God is growing me to be.

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

The Distance Between Hope and Redemption

Cross posted from my Write What You Know blog

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in this blog. So long, in fact, that I thought people had forgotten about it. But people are still finding this blog and following it which has been pretty amazing in and of itself. This has brought me to a decision. I’m going to start cross-posting the posts I write for my Thriving in Grace blog, https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/following-jesus/, in this space to attempt to revive this blog. And come up with some original material for you all to enjoy too.

I’ve never made a secret in this blog of being a Christian, and that is where today’s topic comes from. Hope and redemption–two words that are used often in Christian circles. I never considered though that there might be a distance between them until the other day.

First, to gain some clarity, let’s define each of these words. Hope is to cherish a desire with anticipation or to have trust and reliance while redemption is the act or process or an instance of redeeming. Those of you who are Christians might have also heard of redemption being spoken of as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

So, hope is a desire and redemption is action. Both are spoken of in Scripture. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope  for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Romans 3:24 says, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption  that came by Christ Jesus.” (the action Jesus took by dying on the cross for us)

Both of these are necessary for the Christian faith. If there is hope without redemption, no change is ever made, and we won’t experience God’s love in this world. If there is redemption without hope, we are just doing good deeds without knowing the why behind them. Therefore, it is possible for a distance to develop between these words like I spoke of earlier.

I’ve experienced this distance myself in recent weeks, and I wasn’t sure why. A distance between me and my Lord and Savior. Human beings do a good job of hiding their inner selves from the people around them. We can even hide the deepest part of our souls from ourselves. Of course, they’re not hidden from God, but he can’t start to help us or start the healing process until we are willing to let them bubble up to the surface. That takes us being willing to ask ourselves the hard questions or having trusted people in our lives who are willing to ask us the hard questions. I had one of those moments last week, and once he asked the question, and I answered, I felt the layers of distance between hope and redemption dissolving through the tears. It was not something I had considered, but it was something which was totally correct. It was rejection and insecurity from my past I had not dealt with.

Oh, I thought I had, and maybe to a certain extent, I had. But, I was under a mistaken impression which God corrected in those moments in that office and in the moments for the rest of that day. What was that impression, you ask? I thought I could deal with and then put rejection and insecurity in the back of my heart, and it would stay there, never to come out again. It took me awhile, but with God’s help and my friend’s help, I finally figured out life doesn’t work that way.

That was what brought me back to the distance between hope and redemption. I can’t work on my issues until I’m willing to take action and bring closure to the distance. God wants me to take my fear of rejection and my insecurity to him each and every day when I wake up. This will not be something I will ever “get over”. I will leave these fears at His feet and pick up the truth of who He is and who I am in His Kingdom as I live this crazy messed-up life of mine. The distance between hope and redemption disappears as I know without a doubt I am God’s daughter, and nothing will ever change that!

 

God’s blessings on you all today!

Following Jesus

For the last several weeks, my church has been going through the Gospels–reading one chapter each day and listening to a sermon on Sunday that covers material from the previous week’s chapters. Doing this has been good for me. I’m using a Bible with study notes, and I’ve read these notes for each of the chapters. God is using the notes to help me come to a clearer understanding of His Word.

This understanding has made me uncomfortable which is the point, I think. All of us who are Christians have our own understanding of Jesus. We try to make Him like us so He will be easier to understand. We think He needs to be the same race, sex, socioeconomic status, and physical and emotional health as us for us to follow Him. We also think we need to add rules to what He wants us to do as we follow Him. None of this is true, and we only need to look in Scripture to find this out.

Luke 10:27, “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.'” That’s it. Spelled out with such beauty and simplicity. It can be uncomfortable, this journey of leaning into His love and grace and sharing it with other people. But it is so worth it. It is so very worth it.

I have listened to two songs recently that illustrate the beauty and simplicity of what Jesus has done for us. The Cause of Christ by Kari Jobe is one of them. The chorus of this song is especially meaningful. “For this cause I live. For this cause I’d die. I surrender all. For the cause of Christ. All I once held dear, I will leave behind. For my joy is this. Oh the cause of Christ.” I also liked this part of the song because it reminded me that Jesus is Jesus. I can’t add anything to Him nor can I take anything away. “Jesus my Jesus. For Your glory, for Your Name. Jesus my Jesus. I will only sing your praise.”

The other song reminded me of what Jesus did for me on the cross. I can’t add to or take anything away from that either. From Man of Sorrows by Hillsong: “Now my debt is paid. It is paid in full. By the precious blood. That my Jesus spilled. Now the curse of sin has no hold on me. Whom the Son sets free. Oh is free indeed.”

It is freeing to know that God doesn’t want us adding anything to what Jesus did for us. Jesus is Jesus, who died on the cross for all of our sins and who was resurrected from the dead giving us a path to God we didn’t have before. It’s simple to follow Jesus. Make the choice to believe and then love him and love your neighbor with all your heart. God handles the rest!

Praying for God’s grace and love for you all today!

Giving it to God

How many ways have we tried to solve tough situations on our own? Going through a tough situation is against our nature so when it comes upon us, we do our best to get away from it as quickly as possible. We do such things as talk to the people involved and ask others for advice. We feel such emotions as worry, anxiety, and depression. We pray too, but we are mostly just consumed with what is going on. I’m sure all of us have had these same emotions and thoughts and sometimes, more than one at a time which can get confusing.

God doesn’t want our lives to be like this though. He wants us to leave our burdens at His feet and find rest as it says in Matthew 11:28-30. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Christ’s burden–I like that better than the burden of feeling left out because there was no room in the car or the burden of trying to convince a family member that God loves them even when nothing about their situation changes, and they keep dealing with the same fears over and over again.

Earlier in this post, I wrote a list of the things people do and the way they feel in tough situations. One of those things is beneficial–something that God wants us to do along with releasing the burden to Him. Prayer. Talk to our Lord and Savior about anything and everything. He wants that deep relationship with us, but sadly, most of us just include prayer in a list of things to do in a tough situation and don’t believe there is power in prayer only offering up a superficial prayer, at most.

There is power in prayer though, and I’m starting to think God is wanting me to take it off of the list and depend on it alone.  Jesus says this in Mark 11:22-25. “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.'”

Wow! The power in these verses. The power of the words can be heard when they are said out loud. I want that power in my life. Shouldn’t all of us who are believers want that power in their lives? Now, before anyone says they have prayed and prayed to God and nothing has happened, let me offer some disclaimers. I know I’m not going to get everything I want by praying, and I know for sure that money is not going to pour out of the sky in my direction. Everyone would be a Christian if those kind of “pie in the sky” prayers worked. 🙂

No, God wants our prayers to be honoring to Him. He wants out prayers to honor Him and to honor our faith in Him. He wants our prayers to be the “Even if” and the “Your will be done” kind of prayers. Those are the kind of prayers which have power.

Some of you might remember me speaking of the song “Even If” by Mercy Me several weeks ago, and I think the chorus of the song is the perfect way to end this post.

“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.”

My hope is in my Lord and Savior alone, and today, I give everything in my life to Him!”

 

Praying for God’s blessings on you all!