anxiety, devotional, encouragement, lessons learned

The Mask of Social Media Perfection: Mask Series #2

We all do it. We all post picture-perfect family gatherings, gourmet meals, and clean kitchens. 

But what lies behind the mask of perfection is the fear that our imperfections will lead to rejection.

Somehow, this social media craze has created the idea that only perfect people can be happy or that only perfect people can have friends.

But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more we compare our imperfect lives with the perfection seen on social media, the more disenchanted we become with the blessings God has already bestowed on us. And the more we close off opportunities for true connections with other imperfect people. 

Lasting happiness doesn’t come from the one family photo when everyone’s smiling in their color-matched outfits. It comes from knowing our families are there to support us through thick and through thin. Pictures don’t capture the messy middle that’s real life, but we need to learn to find happiness in real life even when it’s not perfect. Somehow we’re afraid that if anyone saw what our families looked like and acted like behind closed doors that we’d be called out as frauds.

Sure, it’s fun to use those nifty filters to make our ordinary dinners look more delicious, but behind the mask of Insta-worthy plates lies the loneliness of a table set for one. And we would be horrified if our friends knew that on the nights we didn’t post the perfectly plated meals we ate frozen pizza, cereal, and ice cream straight out of the container. 

Somehow we’ve come to the conclusion that if our kitchens aren’t spotless, we can’t be hospitable. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Our friends need to know they’re welcome in our homes no matter how many dishes are in the sink. True friendships thrive when we know we can call a friend at 10 p.m. and ask to sleep on their couch that night. True friendships thrive when we open our doors to the neighbor for coffee even though there are toys all over the living room floor. 

The biggest lie we’ve bought into with our perfect social media posts, though, is that only perfect people can find true connections. The truth of the matter is that true connections flourish when we share our imperfections, thus inviting others to share their imperfections. 

The façade of social media fosters nothing but the danger and damage of comparison. But the openness of truthful imperfections invites what we’re all really seeking behind our masks—true connections.

So be encouraged to take off the mask of social media perfection and seek the happiness of imperfection.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

What’s one way you can find happiness in your imperfections to connect with others this week? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

anxiety, encouragement, grief, healing, lessons learned, moving on

The Mask of Busyness

Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic—masks! No, I’m not getting political or scientific, but just like we all have our reasons for wearing/not wearing cloth masks, we all have our reasons for wearing the invisible masks that hide our true selves.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been lonely lately. Sure, the whole virus thing hasn’t helped, but even before that, I was missing people. So, I thought I’d fill my evenings and weekends outside of work with busyness.

Surely if I went on enough hikes and attended enough game nights, I would find a bosom friend (think Anne of Green Gables and Diana). Surely if I attended enough Bible studies and volunteered enough, I would be more spiritual, and God would love me more, right? Surely if I ate out every other meal, I would forget that my own dining room table was set for one. 

Behind the mask of busyness lies a face of loneliness.

You guessed it. All of that busyness didn’t work. Going to all the game nights and other activities didn’t help to fill the gap left by a friend whom I no longer saw regularly. Surfing Facebook constantly didn’t fill in the gap for a lunch-time heart-to-heart talk with a close girlfriend.

Trying to be more spiritual didn’t make God love me more. He already loves me more than I can imagine. “’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10 NIV).

Joining dating sites didn’t garner me a partner to share the ups and downs of daily life. It just emphasized the sting of rejection and loneliness—over and over again. 

Eating out all the time just made my waistline expand and my wallet shrink. And I’m still faced with the empty spot at the dining room table.

So, when I remove the mask of busyness, I’m left to face my loneliness head-on. What will I do with it? The ultimate answer to the mask of busyness is Isaiah 46:10, 

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

God is the answer for my loneliness. God is the answer for your loneliness, too. Here are five simple, practical steps to combat loneliness:

  1. Seek a closer connection with God. Being alone is the perfect time to schedule dates with the Lord to spend more time reading the Bible and praying. Look around for a Bible study to join—you’ll make some new friends in the process! Read the Psalms. David knew all about feeling alone.
  2. Write it out. Journal your thoughts to God. It is okay to feel lonely. Write about the hard stuff, but also write about the good stuff that He’s done for you in the past. Thank Him for His current provisions for you and for what He will do for you in the future.
  3. Make an effort! It’s so, so hard to reach out (so hard that I dislike that actual phrase—true story), but it is, oh, so worth it. Chances are that others around you are also wishing they had closer connections, but don’t know how to ask for them.
  4. Get involved in a ministry and/or volunteering with those less fortunate.
  5. Remember this season won’t last forever. 

God wants us to turn to Him instead of to activities to fill our emptiness. He promises to give us what we need. He is a … 

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
     is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary [lonely] in a home;
     he leads out the prisoners to prosperity (Psalm 68:5-6 ESV).

It’s time, don’t you think, to set aside our masks of busyness and seek God. He already knows us inside and out anyway (see Psalm 139). How do you mask your loneliness? Let me know, so I can pray for you!

Remember to subscribe to my email list for a great freebie on finding Jesus in the Storm!

anxiety, devotional, lessons learned, moving on

Communication–Anchor Series #3

Canva - Silhouette Image of Person PrayingMy grandparents planned a whole Junior Seamanship Course for us that summer—certificate and all. Part of the course was learning all of the sailing terminology and being able to respond appropriately to my grandfather’s commands whether we were in the middle of the ocean or sailing into our assigned slip at the marina. Communication was especially important when storms blew in. We had to know how to respond instantly without asking why or how. 

But during the calm times, that was when we could ask all the whys and hows we wanted. The questions and answers during the calm times brought us closer to our captain while the stories brought us closer to our grandparents. Both types of communication helped build trust, so we were prepared when the storms rose.

What does communication look like for the Christian? When everyone else deserts you, God is as close as your next prayer. When you’re lying alone on a hard, plastic chair in the emergency room in the middle of the night with your child who’s on a suicide watch, and all you can do is cry, “Oh, God,” he knows what you need. He can bring comfort and peace even then. 

When your church friends turn their backs on you because of false rumors spread by your soon-to-be-ex-husband (and church leaders—yes, for real), Jesus is right there beside you saying, “I know how it feels to be betrayed by those closest to me. Lean on my shoulder for a while.” It’s in those times that the comfort of memorized Scripture and wordless prayers are felt the most. But you can’t know that comfort if you don’t invest time in prayer and Bible reading before you get to that point. 

I know that God doesn’t always answer the way we want or when we want. But He is not on our timetable! And he always knows what’s best for us in the long run. Don’t be discouraged; keep praying.

Having trouble getting started? Me too. Here are a few ideas:

1.  Pray out loud when you walk around the neighborhood or in the park. I often pray as I walk around the pond on my breaks during the work day.

2. Write out your prayers. I find this especially useful because I can pour out my heart more easily than if I’m just trying to think about what I want to say. Writing my prayers often helps to clarify my thinking.

3. Just talk to Him like he’s sitting across the table from you at Panera Bread or on the couch next to you or riding in the front seat of the car on your way to work. Conversation with our Heavenly Father does not have to be complicated. He’s not hung up on any particular format.

4. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them The Lord’s Prayer. It’s short, sweet, and to the point (Matthew 6:9-13). We can mimic it.

5. Pray Scriptures. Use the psalms or one of Paul’s prayers and personalize it with your name and the names of your loved ones. 

One of the most precious letters (yes, real ink and paper) came from my mum when I was in college. She shared that she had been and would be using Colossians 1:9-12 to pray for me. I still have that letter folded and saved inside my Bible in that passage.

6. There are many other methods. Kim at Salvaged Living has a lovely post describing six different models—and she even includes a free printable to put in your Bible or prayer journal. 

Praying helps get your anchor ready to drop when needed, and it helps hold the boat steady after you drop the anchor—it is the anchor. If you’re not prayed up before a crisis hits, your anchor may as well be buried under all the flotsam in the bottom of the hold. But praying (and reading your Bible and being involved in community) brings your anchor up to the bow of the boat, makes sure it’s secured to the boat, and has it ready to throw overboard as soon as it’s needed. 

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you” (Colossians 1:9 NIV).

What’s your favorite way/place to pray? Let me know! And drop me a line to let me know how I can pray for you this coming week.

anxiety, devotional, healing, lessons learned, reinventing

How to Navigate the Uncharted Waters of Life

When my brother and I sailed with my grandparents for a summer when we were teenagers, I never worried about how we would get from one island to another. My brother and I would just be excited about time on the open sea and the upcoming adventures on a different island.

Puget SoundOur Bibles are our navigation charts for life. The more familiar I become with Scripture, the more comfort it brings even when I’m not holding it in my hands. The more it filters into my eyes and ears, the more it comes to my mind and heart when I need it most. 

I totally get being so discouraged that you have a hard time reading the Bible or attending church. I do. 

But if you’re going to need to be able to navigate with truth when a stranger calls to tell you that your daughter is about to commit suicide. As you screech through town toward her while blowing red lights, you need Scripture to already be in your mind. When you’re trying to catch a few hours of sleep on three, hard plastic chairs in the emergency room hallway (because there’s not a room for your child), you need God’s comforting words in your heart. 

When life slams into you at the speed of a totaled car—while I was sitting in it in front of my own house—or legal separation papers arrive on Valentine’s Day, how do you navigate that? How do you navigate when your mortgage gets pushed back and pushed back multiple times—but you don’t know until you’ve already packed your coffee maker and the piano movers are at the door for the third time in a row?

First, you cry (or scream in agony). Then you cry to God. Then you consciously bring to your mind the Bible verses you need in that moment. 

God has so many verses that speak comfort and peace into our lives for such times. No, there are no verses about emergency rooms, but the psalms do speak peace into anxious hearts during hard times. There are no verses about wrecked cars or crushed marital hopes, but there are verses about lives being redirected (Joseph, Esther, Paul) and remaining steadfast in hard times (Job).   

BUT the only way to be able to bring these verses to mind in the moment of the crisis is to put them in there beforehand. To quote my pastor, “You need to get into the Word, so the Word can get into you” (Chad Miller). 

We need to be reading the actual Word daily, not just skimming someone else’s devotional. True confession: this is really hard for me! But it’s a discipline well worth cultivating.

We need to memorize Scripture. Trust me, I know how difficult it can be to memorize the older we get, but it’s not impossible. Write out verses on notecards and post them around your house where you’ll see them. And I’m sure there’s an app for that. 

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5 ESV

Canva - Woman Reading a Bible OutdoorsReading and memorizing Scriptures are how we abide in the vine—John 15. Abiding in the vine is how we bear fruit—and how we know how to navigate the storms of life. 

What Scripture verses have helped you navigate through the hard stuff of life recently? What uncharted waters are you currently navigating, and how can I pray for you?

anxiety, healing, lessons learned, moving on, reinventing

After the Storm: Part 4, Jesus in the Storm

The question now is, what will we do after the storm is over? Eventually, we will be unquarantined; eventually you’ll hold the divorce certificate in your hand; eventually you’ll find another job, another house, another church; eventually the drama in your children’s lives will settle down. But what lesson will you take away from these storms?

Through the more recent storms in my life, my prayer has been, “Lord, what lesson do you want me to learn? How can I glorify you through this hot mess?” 

My first takeaway has been to attempt to have a positive attitude throughout this whole quarantine business. I’ve had my moments; trust me! But overall, I think I may finally, after 49 years (!!), be learning how “in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). What I’ve learned is that whining just makes it (whatever “it” is) worse. This morning, our pastor reminded us that we should not hear gratitude and complaints coming out of someone’s mouth at the same time (James 3:9-12). 

Everyone is eager to return to “normal” after being quarantined for the past three months or so. While I admit to wanting to ditch the mask and hug my friends in church, I often longed for the merry-go-round of life to stop just long enough for me to catch my breath. Well, the merry-go-round stopped. Sometimes we need to be careful what we wish for! 

Here’s the crux of the matter: Do we really want to return to the rat race of constant activity? Perhaps we’ll be more intentional about our choices for activities. For sure I’m going to be more intentional about how I spend my time! I’m also going to be more intentional about seeking out community.

My second takeaway is this: We need to check on our neighbors and friends whom we know live alone—even after we’re all allowed outside again. Chances are that if they were lonely during the quarantine, they’re still lonely now. Let’s make a plan and not just to keep them in our thoughts and prayers—keep them on our speed dial too! Make a plan to keep dropping off a plate of cookies every few weeks, just because.

Let’s be intentional about going to church and small groups even after the excitement of being allowed to meet again wears off. Don’t let church time get crowded out by sports games, beach trips, and sleeping in.

On the flip side, don’t sign up for every committee just because you feel like you have to. It’s still ok to say no and to realize that family time must be a priority. 

My daughter was in Italy having her dream semester abroad when her school canceled everything, so she had to come home and do her classes online. There is absolutely no online substitute for walking around Rome, Florence, and Sicily. Being locked in a small dorm room alone is no substitute for traveling to Spain and Portugal for spring break. I get that. I really do. And I still feel absolutely terrible about her missed opportunities. She cried. I cried. But, I have absolutely reveled in the unexpected blessing of having her here to help me move and to spend time with her. She graduates from college next year, so this is the last time I’ll have with her just to be together. And it’s so sweet. It’s an unexpected blessing in this difficult time. 

What unexpected blessings have you found during this weird pandemic time? Remember to keep looking for unexpected blessings even when life goes back to “normal”! That’s the third takeaway. 

My fourth and final takeaway comes from looking again at the story of Jesus and the disciples in the storm from Mark 4:35-41—after Jesus calmed the storm with just a few words, he looked at the disciples as if he were disgusted with them (that’s what my attitude would be anyway). 

Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?

Mark 4:40

They had already seen a bunch of miracles and heard some amazing parables. So why did they think that Jesus would not be able to save them in a storm? 

Yet how often do I think the same thing? When my bank account is a big, fat zero and my car breaks down at the post office, I forget that not once have I been without transportation when I needed it. When I scramble around looking for more classes to teach at the last minute to replace ones that got canceled, I forget that God has always provided a way for me to pay every single bill on time.

When my beloved daddy calls to say the doctor told him he has cancer—for the third time—I forget that Jehovah Rapha can do miracles. And if the miracle is that others will come to Christ through his death, well, Jesus will  be the only way to calm the storm within me. 

Yes, Jesus in the boat right there beside us, but he wants for us to experience his peace and his calmness. He wants us to know, truly know, who he really is and what kind of power he has.   

What are your takeaways from your most recent storm (being quarantined or something else)? How can I pray for you during your current storm?

anxiety, devotional, grief, healing

Comfort in the Storm: Part 3 of Jesus in the Storm

My cutie-pie step grandbaby. Photo creds to Reshelle Stockton (both pics).

Oh, how we long to be comforted like a child who cries for her mama in the middle of a midnight thunderstorm! Somehow it’s not as acceptable to carry around a well-worn Minnie Mouse or stuffed puppy for security when we’re 49 as when we’re 4. So, how can we find comfort in the middle of whatever life storm we find ourselves?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4 ESV

Turn to Jesus. I know, I know! That sounds like a platitude when you don’t have anything practical to say. But it’s totally the answer (keep reading for a few practical tips, too). Jesus understands loneliness; after all, He was deserted by His BFFs the night before He was sentenced to die. 

So, how do you turn to Jesus when you need comfort? Pray first. Ask specifically to feel comforted. Read the Psalms. David had many hard times, and he found comfort by turning to God every time. I myself find great comfort in reading the Psalms. Turn on some praise and worship music. Let the goodness of God fill your ears and your mind.

God’s a safe-house for the battered,
a sanctuary during bad times.
The moment you arrive, you relax;
you’re never sorry you knocked. Psalm 9:9-10

Psalm 9:9-10 MSG

Sometimes we long so much for physical comfort that it hurts. There’s no other ache like empty arms or an empty spot on the couch. During this forced time of quarantine, loneliness has been magnified. Even introverts are itching to see people! 

Ask for a physical hug from someone in your house, a close friend, or even your pet. If that’s not possible right now, FaceTime a friend; even seeing a loved one’s face can help more than just hearing his/her voice. Often just talking about some of our fears with an understanding friend can help us feel calmer (Proverbs 12:25). Cuddle up with a soft, cozy blanket, a cup of hot tea (coffee, cocoa), and your pet.

Let your steadfast love comfort me
according to your promise to your servant.

Psalm 119:76 ESV

As contrary as it sounds, one of the best ways to feel comforted is to look around for someone else who needs to be comforted. In encouraging someone else, you will feel encouraged and comforted yourself.

Be comforted and encouraged, sweet friend! Drop a line with your prayer request, and I’ll pray for you!

anxiety, devotional, lessons learned

Peace in the Storm: Part 2 of Jesus in the Storm

We all want to experience God’s peace, but we cannot experience His peace until we first comprehend His power. And we cannot comprehend His power without a storm. These two attributes of God go hand-in-hand.

Catherine Segars

Pandemics, large and small disappointments, illnesses, deaths, family troubles—we all have storms in life. So, experiencing fear and anxiety in the midst of any type of storm is understandable.

But the real question we all have is, where is Jesus in the middle of our storms? Where is Jesus now, in the middle of the biggest pandemic our generation has ever experienced? Many of us feel, like the disciples in the boat, that Jesus is ignoring our plight by sleeping through it (Mark 4). And, like those doubting disciples, we tend to jump to the immediate—and incorrect—conclusion that he does not care about our fate.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is, indeed, right in the middle of the storm with us. That in itself is extremely comforting. I find myself wanting to know that I’m not the only who’s been through abusive marriages and divorces, not the only one with concerns over my parents’ health or my children’s choices, and not the only one who’s ever lost a job or a car or a church due to circumstances beyond my control. 

And Jesus does care deeply about our fates. While he could snap his fingers and heal everyone with COVID-19 now, it’s not very likely that he will. That’s not his style. What he wants, instead, is for us to have faith that he is still in control.

He made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Psalm 107:29

Without the storm, the disciples would never have realized that Jesus had control over the weather. Without the storms in our lives, we may never realize that Jesus is in control over our life circumstances, no matter what they are, and that when he says, “Peace! Be still!” (Mark 4:39) the peace he’s imparting might be into our hearts, not into our situations.

If you’re feeling in need of some peace today, try listening to some praise and worship music while you take some time to read verses about the kind of peace Jesus offers you today. Here are a few to get you started: Psalm 23; Psalm 91; Psalm 107:23-32; Isaiah 26:12; Isaiah 41:10; Mark 4:35-41; Philippians 4:4-9; 2 Timothy 1:7. Which passages would you add?

Pray and ask God specifically for a peaceful heart during your storm. Ask others to pray with you.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

What’s your biggest storm in life right now? How are you finding peace in its midst? Please share with me, so I can pray with you!

anxiety, devotional, lessons learned

Jesus in the Storm, Part 1

A worldwide pandemic is not a literal storm, but I imagine it feels as unsettling as Jonah before he jumped overboard or the disciples before they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them.

While the current COVID-19 panic seems to be the biggest storm on the horizon, it’s not the only one. Parents are still dying of cancer, children are still rebelling in the most heart-rending ways, and divorce is still sideswiping many. 

Jesus told us that we would have tribulations in this world (John 16:33). Not might. Not maybe. But definitely. So it would behoove us to be prepared. 

We need to learn to see Jesus in the midst of every storm. While he did not promise us smooth sailing, he did promise to be with us at all times. 

“How apt is faith to stagger if it is not powerfully undergirded.”

Richard Baxter

When I was a teenager, my brother and I spent a summer sailing around Puget Sound on our grandparents’ sailboat. We had a blast earning our Junior Seamanship Certificates and sailing from island to island. 

Being Washington state, the weather wasn’t always sunny with a light wind. No, there were frequent storms replete with thunder, lightning, strong winds, and heavy rains.

The sailboat would rock violently from side to side as rain lashed the decks. We would lower the sails so as not to be pushed about more by the wind. Walking around, even below decks, was impossible. Sometimes my grandpa would drop anchor, and we would ride out the storm in the relative safety of a harbor. 

A few times, though, we were out in the main channel when the wind whipped up, and no immediate port of safety was available. But I was never afraid, even when we were told to batten down the hatches and go below decks. My grandpa was the most competent sailor and had weathered many storms; I trusted him implicitly to pilot the sailboat and us through the storm to safety. And he did. Every time.

Jesus is even better than Sailor Jack. 

When Jesus and his disciples were sailing one day, Jesus fell asleep and slept through a terrible storm. The disciples woke Jesus up because they thought they were going to die in the storm. Jesus, after he calmed the storm, said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

Faith is the anchor for our souls. We need to soak up the Word through reading, meditating on, practicing, and passing on the Word of God (Romans 10:17) so that when trials come, our faith may be steadfast (James 1:2-3). 

What’s your current storm? Please share, so I can pray with you! 

anxiety, change, devotional, grief, lessons learned

Plan B

My life lately looks like a season of Well, That Didn’t Go as Planned. But here’s the thing. I. Love. To. Plan. Everything.

Perhaps you have this problem, too?

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9 ESV

I’ve learned to write in my pretty planner with erasable pens (they’re the bomb), but my stickers don’t always cooperate with being moved. Kind of like their owner.

Right now, my Plan A is for the purchase of my townhome to happen on a particular date. I’ve got a sticker for the movers on that date in my planner and friends with strong backs and muscles lined up, too. But yesterday, I received an email from my lender saying that the date would most likely be pushed back eight days. 

For four years, my baby girl has dreamed about and planned on going to Italy to study abroad this semester. (You already see where this is going, don’t you?) She had been happily ensconced in Rome for two months, racking up the steps on her FitBit when a teeny, tiny little virus spread like wildfire around the globe, aided by the media. 

Her dreams of spending five months traveling and learning around Europe fell like rose petals from a rejected lover as she was rushed back with the rest of her classmates to the “safe” zone of New York City. Platitudes of health and safety aren’t comforting. Now she’s quarantined (yet healthy) in her dorm and wondering how and when her classes will continue in a different country with different professors.

I can relate. I wish I had more comforting words. But I don’t. I wish I could hug her in person. But I can’t. All I can say is, “I’m so sorry, baby, but it will be ok. Eventually.” 

God comforts us when we’re on Plan B (or C or G or M or …) with this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28 ESV

Everything—even the bumped moving date and the disrupted study abroad plans—is for our good, even if we can’t immediately see it. We just have to trust that God knows what He’s doing.  

I love the insight and inspiration of this article by Sandra Peoples: “Your Plan B Is Still God’s Plan A.” Peoples’ life didn’t go as planned, and she looks to a number of biblical examples of others whose lives didn’t go as they planned either. 

Above all, God is sovereign. Sometimes I just have to repeat that over and over to myself. Sometimes I need to remind myself of other times when my unwanted Plan B really did turn out to be so much better than my Plan A because it was God’s Plan A all along. When we surrender to God’s Plan A (even if it’s our Plan C or D), that’s when God gets the glory. And that’s what life is really all about: glorifying God. 

What’s your Plan B? Suspended travel plans? A child’s rejection? An unwanted diagnosis? A divorce? An unexpected death? A job loss? Remember that it’s still God’s Plan A for your life, and it will be better than your Plan A (eventually).