Tag Archives: Christianity

My Thesis Statement

After reading the latest devotion, I finally understand what the author was talking about in her previous entries about calling. I still believe there can be more than one calling, and there can be callings for different times in our lives. But, there is a way God wants us to express that calling, and that is what I want to talk about today.

The author speaks of figuring out a thesis statement of her life–a main thing– and says that she thinks all of our lives look like that. The thought intrigued me. I was confused when she referred to it as a calling because I’ve always thought having a calling was what I did with my life. “What” is only one question word though. We’re all familiar with the other question words like “who”, “when”, “where”, “why”, “which”, and “how”. I believe the thesis statement she is discussing is how you express that calling.

Once I figured that out, the thoughts came quickly about a possible thesis statement. It’s almost been nine years since my mother-in-law passed away suddenly. In many ways, this was a bellwether event that led me and my family to where we are now. I won’t lie to you. The first few years after her passing were a dark and bleak time. We hit rock bottom more than once. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but we walked through moves, job losses, financial problems, illnesses, and family conflict. We didn’t have a church family during that time either. Three years later though, we found our church here in our new town as I’ve written about before, and we found God again in a much more personal way. It changed our family forever.

In the years since though, I’ve had to readjust my thinking on one particular thing and will probably be working on this until the day I die. That thing is revealing your real self in church. I was always taught, by example and by word, that revealing your real self usually turned out badly so I didn’t. I put shields up when I went to church, and it would take a lot to bring them down. But, at our church here, revealing your real self is not only accepted; it is welcomed. There have been deaths since we’ve been at this church. I’ve seen people cry. I’ve seen people cry when they’ve been speaking at the front of the church. I’ve heard people speak of the dark things, and they weren’t shunned. People walked with us through times of need, and we weren’t shunned either. That didn’t make it any less tough for me to speak. Years of conditioning can do that to a person.

But, then I started my first blog and this blog two years later. Somehow, it became easier to speak of the dark things when I wrote about them. About my depression, about the hard times, about job loss and asking God why, about stays in the hospital, about everything. I found my voice with this blog and started writing about my journey of faith. I found my courage too and started speaking to people when I was having a hard time. God was knitting bravery and courage into my heart almost without my realizing it, and I felt His presence in a more profound way.

Thinking about the memories of the last few years and writing them down has brought my thesis statement to mind which I want to share with you now. I’m the person who speaks of the real things, of the dark things, so you will know I’m not perfect and so you will know Jesus Christ has changed my life anyway! My prayer is that I honor this statement as I continue to develop my writing voice!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

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My Little Light

I have thoughts rushing around in my head today. From what I read in 100 Days to Brave, from what I heard on Sunday from my pastor, from what I read this morning from a blogger friend–my thoughts are trying to coalesce into something important. God sometimes does this when He really wants me to get a point. He puts it where I can read or hear it more than once so I will pay attention. I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to. 🙂

At first, I wasn’t sure what to focus on from this morning’s entry. I’ve already spoken of my calling for the next phase of my life. I’ve spoken of how I think God wants to use my written words to bless others and that all I need to do is be faithful in writing them down. Then, I read a quote that brought the other things I had read and heard into focus. “We know, as Christians, that we are called to point people to Christ. But how are you supposed to do that practically, using your unique makeup?” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) Ding, ding, ding! That was it! Time to bring my unique personality into this series of posts.

On Sunday, I heard a sermon from Matthew 5:13-16. God used my pastor to speak to me. Here is the text in case you don’t have it handy. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

There it is, in black and white. We’re supposed to let our light shine before others. How is that supposed to work for those of us who are introverts? Yes, I have taught school, like I said yesterday. Yes, I am a mom and a wife. Yes, I have friends, and yes, I deal with people in public on a relatively daily basis. But sometimes, people just wear me out. Sometimes, I come home from being around people and relive every clumsy encounter. I relive the dumb and stupid things I’ve said and done. I wonder why people even have me as their friend because I don’t feel like I’ve done a good job interacting with them. So, how am I supposed to let my light shine when I feel like this?

Many of you would say I need to push myself through the feelings. I’ve done that as well working in Vacation Bible School for a whole week or going to a women’s retreat for the weekend. I know participating in these kind of things is good, and I’ve generally had good experiences while doing so. People who are extroverts would then ask why I wasn’t doing something a particular year when I express hesitation about doing it again. They would say I should just push through my feelings again since it worked well the last time.

They don’t know what goes on in my head though every time I am confronted with one of these invitations–the feelings of fatigue and inadequacy when I contemplate being around a group of people for an extended period of time. I’m actually facing a decision like that for this evening. The women of my church have started a monthly get-together at a local restaurant for fellowship–no praying or Bible study–just talking so people can get to know each other better. Part of me says it won’t matter if I come or not–that I wouldn’t be missed, and that’s the part that’s winning right now. Thinking about being around a group of people makes me feel overwhelmed and inadequate. I will see what happens with my decision by the end of the day.

Back to my question. How is someone who is quiet supposed to share their light for Christ? The blog I read earlier, https://upliftgirl.com/2018/03/20/this-little-light/, and the quote I shared from 100 Days to Brave have started to answer that question for me. God made me in His own unique way. There’s not a part of me He doesn’t know. He knows that I get overwhelmed and feel inadequate around groups of people. He knows that I get fatigued after a short while of being in a crowd. But, there are ways I can share my light while working within my personality. It isn’t just one way or nothing. One of them is writing in this blog. And yes, it does count. 🙂 Another is sharing my light with just one person. That one counts too. 🙂 It takes pressure off of this quiet soul when I think of it that way. So, I don’t need to speak to or be in a crowd to let my light shine. I can share God’s love with the world and use my own unique personality to do it.

As I end this post, I want to share two quotes that fit what I’m feeling about sharing my little light of God’s love. The first is from a secular television show, but I think it still fits. “The steps you take don’t need to be big. They just need to take you in the right direction.” (The Devil Complex, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD) Pretty profound, right? Just take one step at a time. The other one is from the blog I mentioned earlier. “One little expression of love after another; one little act of telling the good news.” (This Little Light of Mine, upliftgirl.com) One step at a time. This post really spoke to me. It’s what God wants me to do, and that’s okay. And now, my prayer for all of us is that we go in the direction God is calling us to–one step at a time!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Calling Versus Dreams

As another new week begins, I’ve been given more to think about through my reading of the devotional 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. My first read-through of this morning’s entry was a surface reading which brought a surface understanding. I didn’t quite know what God was trying to tell me. Then, I read it again, and understanding dawned. It reached its tendrils through all the phases of my life–through the disappointments and through the joys. Through thinking that I will never have any gifts to share with my church to thinking that my gifts from God would need to be shared elsewhere. It was an understanding I didn’t expect on this day of possible severe weather.

So, calling versus dreams. I didn’t think there was a difference, but there is, at least, according to the author. Dreams are things that might not come true. The author uses her dream of spouse, kids, and a house as an example. That makes sense to me. I’ve shared before in this space of my dream of becoming a published author, of having a bigger audience for my words than I have now. That dream might not come true either. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to have the dreams. He just wants us to put them in the proper context.

Then, there’s calling. What God calls you to do with your life. Romans 11:29 in The Message says this, “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty–never canceled, never rescinded.” But, the thing is that’s what has changed for me. When I was younger, I thought my calling was to teach school. I did that for a few years. Then, we moved, and God called me to be a full-time mom and a school volunteer. We moved again, and a year later, God called me to homeschool our sons. So, for twelve years, I have been a mom and a teacher. I guess I was fulfilling the same calling, just in different ways.

Now, my time as a teacher is almost done. My younger son graduates from high school in two months, and I have a different calling on my heart–the calling to write full-time. I’ve done a lot of that in the last few years–books, short stories, blog posts. It’s easier for me to “speak” when I write the words, and I’ve learned a lot about myself as I’ve written them. I’ve become stronger and surer of myself as a person. I’ve also become stronger in my faith and more in tune with the voice of my Lord and Savior. Writing is a way for me to communicate without feeling clumsy as I often do in person, and it has changed my life in more ways than I can count. I feel called to share those changes in my writing and to use my writing as an instrument of change.

What is the difference, then, between my calling and my dreams? I think it boils down to what’s under my control and what’s not. Putting pen to paper or typing to computer screen is under my control. Doing the work and putting it out there is under my control. Whether I get a publishing contract or not is under someone else’s control. God wants me to be content doing the work and sharing it even if I never see the outcome. He wants my hope to be in Him and no one else. And that’s what I want most of all–to live out my calling in His love and His grace and to see what He does with my words! May we all live in His love and grace today!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Bravery in Community

We weren’t meant to struggle alone, and we weren’t meant to be brave alone. It’s taken me years to work that out in my head. It’s hard to be brave or to be vulnerable when your trust has been betrayed. I’ll be covering who to be brave with in more detail tomorrow, but let’s just say that time and God’s love have worked on my heart enough where I feel ready to be brave again.

Why do we need to be brave with each other and not just by ourselves? Number one–God calls us to. Hebrews 10:24-25 says this, “And let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” I used to read these verses and think they were talking about the early church, but I don’t anymore. They have become rooted deep in my heart and have a more personal meaning to me now.

The second reason is that if we tell someone what we’re thinking or feeling, we have a tendency to be more committed and follow through with whatever we’ve said. In other words, we’ve shown commitment to the people around us. Because of our bravery or our vulnerability, there will be people who will ask how it’s going or whether we’ve accomplished that thing we set out to do. These are things that will help us stay accountable and were what God meant, I think, when He created us to live in community with one another.

This is a hard thing for those of us in the western church. We have such an individualistic mind-set that we think we can’t or shouldn’t depend on anyone else. Church is a box to be checked off, and we think our relationship with God is something that is just between us and Him with no one else involved. I’ve learned that this is not true. It is so not true, but it takes all of us being brave and vulnerable to be the church God wants us to be in His world. To be God’s community to our hurting world.

Our news is filled with shootings, sickness, selfish people, and evil. Can we who are believers be brave enough to be different? Can we be Jesus to those who are hurting? Can we be brave in our communities of believers? I don’t know about you, but my heart wants to try. I’m praying we will all have the desire to have a heart like His!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Dream Chaser

From the beginning, there are some people who chase their dreams with a single-minded purpose. As the author says in this morning’s devotion, some people know about their dreams long before they know how to accomplish them. They spend their young lives learning all they need to accomplish their dream, and then it happens. They win that Olympic gold medal; they have the opportunity to play professional sports; they become a doctor at a young age. As the idiomatic expression goes, they have the world at their feet, and nothing’s going to stop them.

Then, there are those of us who chase dreams in a more normal way. No, the word normal isn’t right. Maybe I should say, ‘Then, this is how the majority of us pursue dreams.’ We look for others’ approval. We think that only people who are naturally good at something can pursue a particular dream. We want to have a career that actually makes money, and we think our dream won’t make us money. We’re told that we can’t have that dream for any number of reasons–gender, race, family opposition, etc., etc., etc. We even can sabotage ourselves in the achieving of our dreams, thinking that we’re not good enough, even though we might be with hard work. But, many of us miss that lesson, I think. We also make choices for different dreams when life happens like when we marry or become a parent.

I’ve gone through all these stages and more. There were times when I didn’t think I could do something because of my gender or because of my lack of natural ability. There were times when I wanted approval from others and changed myself to meet those expectations. There were also times when I changed my dreams because of life circumstances.

I remember when we made the choice to homeschool our sons. I knew this choice would be for the long haul when we made it and that I would need to totally focus on them–as their teacher and their mother. I don’t regret that choice now, and I didn’t regret it then though I felt a dying to self on that day. But, isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do? To die to self each and every day. So, I did, and homeschooling has been a success by every stretch of the imagination. My sons have received an education; we’ve become closer as a family; and we’ve come back to God. All successes in my book. I even got to use the talents God has given me during that time. Teaching writing was easy, and I practiced writing stories every chance I had. All in preparation for the next phase of my life when my younger son graduates from high school in just over two months.

I say all this to say that dreams can be chased no matter how old we are. That’s why God gives them to us. Sometimes, it takes a lot to draw them out of us as it says in Proverbs 20:5. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” There is also a quote from the author of today’s devotion that really spoke to me, and I think it applies now that I’m at this stage of my life. “God loves to put wings on dreams that His kids chase, dreams that can bring Him glory.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) My prayer for all of us today is that we continue to chase our dreams as we love God and use those dreams to bring Him glory!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

It’s Okay to Mourn

Specifically, today’s topic deals with mourning dreams that have died. At least, that’s what the devotion topic is about. I want to expand it though. I want to say it’s okay to mourn the bad things that have happened in your life.

For those of us who are believers, I think this message has gotten lost in the translation. When we become Christians, we think we should be filled with the joy of Jesus and that nothing should ever be wrong again because we are filled with that joy. Don’t get me wrong. The fruits of the Spirit are a thing, :-), and our lives should be filled with them. Galatians 5:22-23 says this, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” These are all things God has given us.

At the same time, God realizes we still live in a broken world with its hurts and disappointments. He knows we will mourn, and that’s okay. In Biblical times, they called it lamenting. Here are some examples. Psalm 5:1 says, “Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.” Here is another one from Jeremiah 4:8. “So put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned from us.” Jeremiah 7:29 and 9:20 are also good examples. “Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath.” “Now, you women, hear the word of the Lord; open your ears to the words of his mouth. Teach your daughters how to wail; teach one another a lament.” Finally, the entire book of Job is a lament of everything that had happened to him.

So, with all of these examples in Scripture, one might think that the present-day church would have its act together regarding mourning. I’m sad to say it doesn’t, at least not in the western church. There is a prescribed time of mourning for someone who has died, and if there are personal problems to be mourned, well, that’s not really accepted inside the church. We are expected to be buttoned up, zipped up, and to only show the good parts of being a Christian. If we’re hurting or we’ve done something bad, we don’t think we should show it, and if we do, we feel ashamed. At least, I do. Your mileage may differ.

We even feel shame when we’re invited to share our burdens and our hurts. One of the speakers at my church on Sunday invited people to stand if they had been affected by a laundry list of hurts and burdens. The object was to show that we are all affected by hurts and burdens and that we need to support each other. Many people stood, but it was an uncomfortable standing, a standing that felt obligated instead of wanted.

There are a number of things that are good about living in the west, but the overemphasis on individuality to the exclusion of community is not one of them. We think we have to handle everything by ourselves, but that is the furthest thing from the truth and even further from God’s truth. God meant for us to have community. He meant for us to laugh together and to mourn together. He meant for us to encourage one another as we lean into God’s love and grace and for us to be the church to our hurting world. Because, the church is not just a building. It is a group of us who are living out God’s perfect grace to an imperfect world. May we all lean into that truth today as we love together, laugh together, and mourn together!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Closed Doors

As I begin this Monday, I’m thinking of opposites. Like the opposite of an open door is a closed-door. I wrote about open doors on Friday,  https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2018/03/09/open-doors/. For me, open doors are somewhat easier than closed doors. All an open door really requires is the courage to walk through it. But, closed doors, well, they’re something else entirely.

Like the author of the devotional says, “closed doors can be confusing.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) We can pray that we’re in God’s will. We’ve received all the signals that this new thing we’re thinking about is in God’s will, but then, abruptly, the door closes in our faces. We feel confused, worried, upset, and just plain uncertain. I’m reminded of how my husband felt after job interviews where he was certain he was going to get the job, and then the job ended up going to someone else. That’s how a closed-door feels to me.

I think we misread the Scripture that was in this morning’s devotional sometimes. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” We read it like we’re asking the Lord to bless our plans, but that’s not what it says. Read it again. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” It says God will establish your plans. I think we forget that sometimes because we want to retain an element of control. We think we know better than God, and that’s why we ask Him to bless our plans.

We struggle with trusting God and feeling uncertain too. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m writing this series of posts. I want to become braver as I’m learning to trust more. I believe bravery and trusting God go hand in hand, and when I run into a closed-door, I want to be able to sit back and say, “That’s okay, God. I know you have something better in mind for me.” I’m not there yet, but I know I will be as I continue on this journey. Praying we can all become better at trusting our Lord and Savior!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!