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).

devotional, divorce, grief, healing

Love Letters

Eight years ago, on my very first Valentine’s Day as a grieving, scared, newly separated, single mom, I got the ultimate rejection: legal separation papers. Yes, they were actually delivered on Valentine’s Day. I’m pretty sure I went through a whole box of tissues that day.

Last year, separated from my second husband, I found out that he was seeing another woman. Yes, before we were legally divorced. (I later discovered that they were married before the ink was even dry on his divorce from me.) 

Let’s just say I don’t have high hopes for this particular holiday. 

But there is Someone who sent me the ultimate love letter. Someone who won’t ever retract it. Someone who, although he loves many others, will never be unfaithful to me.

God sent us the ultimate love letter, so long that it fills 66 separate books. True, some books are more filled with obvious love than others, but the whole Bible is a story of redemption for undeserving people—the  ultimate definition of love.

Although nearly 800 verses displayed when I did a search for the word love in the Bible, the one verse that has been popping up over and over recently doesn’t actually have the word love in it: 

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

What could be a better definition of love for someone who’s feeling rejected and forgotten on Valentine’s Day more than God taking great delight in me? That’s not an I-love-you-because-I-have-to love. That’s not you’re-not-quite-enough-for-me love. That’s an amazing kind of love! It makes me want to rejoice and sing, too!

Now I just need a way for this amazing truth to sink in the long 12 inches from my head to my heart. 

Friend, I know it’s hard, really hard, especially this week. But know this: you are not forgotten; you are not unloved. You are delighted in! Your Heavenly Father is rejoicing over you with singing!

change, devotional, lessons learned, reinventing

Praise Before Victory

It’s a dreary, chilly day here in North Carolina, but that’s no excuse to let my inside grumpiness be on display for everyone else. Although it may seem like no big deal, it’s not. Victory in small things leads to victory in bigger things. Learning how to have victory over a grumpy mood one day leads to learning how to have victory over the negative effects of a life-altering event next month or next year. 

Turns out, King Jehoshaphat of OT Judah, knew the right formula: “He appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’ And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed”  — 2 Chronicles 20:21–22.

They’re giving praises to God BEFORE the victory! The praise band is walking in front of the soldiers. What? Isn’t that backward? Sure seems that way! We teach our kids to say thank you after we’ve given them something. Do you remember giving your toddlers something—anything—and then prompting them, “What do you say?” Sometimes I would even hold onto the item (with them holding the other side of it) until they remembered to say thank you. I was giving them the cookie, yet I wouldn’t release the cookie from my hand until they expressed gratitude. 

Lightbulb moment: Is that what’s going on here? God is giving us the victory, just like I’m giving my toddler the cookie, but just like a toddler, I often need to be prompted to say thank you. God is holding onto the victory until I get my brain in gear and acknowledge that he’s the source of the victory! But how do we gain a victory when we want to remain in victim mode?  

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”

1 Corinthians 15:57

Fill your mind with gratitude. Read the Psalms and notice that even when David was crying for help in a difficult situation, he always gave thanks as well.

Fill your ears with praises. Start singing praises to God—sing along with worship songs on the radio. Or just start by clicking on a praise and worship channel on Pandora or Spotify. 

Fill your hand with thankfulness. Express gratitude. Keep a jar on your counter and make a point every day to write one thing for which you are grateful on a slip of paper to put into the jar. For a dose of encouragement, at the end of the year (or month, or even week), take a look back at God’s personal faithfulness to you.   

Sometimes victory looks like showing up at work or church even when it took a monumental effort to pick yourself up off the floor from a crying jag. Sometimes victory looks like hugging the person who just screamed invectives at you and slammed doors on his way out because he’s your son. Sometimes victory looks like keeping your mouth closed during a work meeting or not firing off that angry (though perhaps justified) email. And sometimes victory looks like keeping the grumpiness inside and projecting cheerfulness. What does your victory look like today?

change, devotional, healing, lessons learned, moving on, reinventing

Out With the Old; In With the New

So, maybe I’m a few days late to the game, but I’m still working on my vision for 2020. How ‘bout you? Or maybe your goals have already fizzled, and you need a reminder to reboot them. Here’s your invitation to keep working toward your 2020 vision!

Some of my goals feel so big and so audacious that I’m taking my time to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. I’m believing God for “a new thing” in this new decade. (Yes, I’m aware that some of you think the new decade doesn’t start until 2021, but let’s set that debate aside for now.) At the end of this year, I’ll be reaching a milestone birthday with a new decade of life. So, it’s time. It’s time to shed the past decade of hurts and hard stuff. It’s time to do something with the lessons that God’s taught me through all of the yuckiness of recent life events. 

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, … “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” — Isaiah 43:16–19

— Isaiah 43:16–19 (ESV)

If my God can make a dry path for the Isralites through the Red Sea, make water spring forth from a dry rock, raise a dead man to life, and create something out of nothing, then he can give me a new lease on life this year! I’m on the lookout for his path for me through the desert this coming year. 

But here’s the thing: we can’t go forward if we’re looking back. We can’t make a new relationship work if we’re always bringing up the old one. We can’t hold new things if our hands are still clenched around the old things—physically or metaphorically. Dump out the cold coffee and brew a fresh cup, sister!

Together, let’s let go of fear, unrealistic expectations, old hurts, and feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Let’s reach out and hold onto  faith, confidence, joy, and the expectation that God will do something new in our lives in 2020. Who’s with me?

change, devotional, lessons learned

What If We’re Just Supposed to Show Love?

What if we’re just supposed to show love this Christmas season? Not judge. Not worry about how our show of love will be perceived. Not worry about what it might cost us. Not worry about whether we’re doing it the right way (whatever that might be). Just love.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”

John 15:12 ESV

Like the lawyer in Luke 10, I want to question Jesus and say, “Surely you didn’t mean I have to show love to that person; he’s not my neighbor!” Like that legalistic questioner, we, too, are often guilty of loving just those who are like us, who have the same values and backgrounds. But instead, we are to have the attitude of the Samaritan—a pariah in the Jewish community—and go the extra mile for everyone, even our enemies.   The Samaritan not only bandaged up his enemy’s wounds on the spot, but he carried him to the next town and arranged for his extended care—at his own expense! 

For us, sometimes showing love looks like inviting your son’s awkward girlfriend over for Christmas dinner even though you wish they’d break up. Sometimes showing love looks like buying a gift for that rude coworker. Sometimes showing love means cooperating with your children’s father. A lot of times showing love looks like being a gracious hostess and a generous gift giver to those who don’t deserve anything by worldly standards. Showing love sometimes looks like letting go. Showing love sometimes looks like overriding your emotions. Most of all, at least for me, showing love is going to look like giving smiles and hugs, but keeping my opinions, thoughts, and fears to myself. 

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”

Luke 6:27-28 ESV

That’s the true spirit of Christmas!

What does showing love look like for you this Christmas season? Let’s share and uphold each other in prayer. May God give us the grace to show his compassion to all!

devotional, lessons learned, moving on

How to be Thankful in Tough Times

Canva - A Woman in a FieldI don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do when I’m faced with a huge, unexpected car repair bill, a looming medical diagnosis, or an impossible family situation is to give thanks. But that’s what we’re supposed to do. 

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

James instructs us to “count it all joy” as we encounter trials! Personally, I’ve always had a bone to pick with James about the word “joy.” But we are instructed to actually be joyful in times of trouble. I’m still working on it! That’s the way to become steadfast, which will lead to becoming “perfect and complete” (James 1:2–4).

The most vivid example is when Paul and Silas were in the Philippian jail. It can’t get much worse than being beaten and then thrown into a dank prison cell for witnessing for Christ. Yet Paul and Silas were singing and praising God in the middle of the night. THEN, and only then, did God cause an earthquake that set in motion the events of their freedom—and the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16:16–34). Somehow, I don’t think they would have been saved if Paul and Silas had spent the night complaining and screaming invectives.  

Do I want to give praise and thanks to God when times are tough? No! Nothing in my natural self wants to do anything but have a pity party. But after my tissue box is empty and my journal is full of laments, the pity party is over. The first rung of the ladder out of the pit of despair is praise. There’s always something to be thankful for, even if it’s just a new box of tissues when you’re bawling your eyes out over bad news. 

I can praise God that though the battle may seem lost for now, the war is not over. I can praise God for past victories, however small or long ago they may be. I can praise God for another day to bring Him glory. I can thank God for friends and family who remain by my side no matter what. I can be thankful for a roof over my head and a job to pay the bills. 

Even when I didn’t have a job—or a roof, or a car—God provided for my every need. And for that, I can be thankful today as I’m facing new trials.   

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:1, 5).

So, how can you be thankful right now—in the midst of your trials?

anxiety, devotional, grief, healing, lessons learned

Jesus Is Not a Band-Aid

My people are broken—shattered!—

    and they put on Band-Aids,

Saying, “It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.”

But things are not “just fine”!

Jeremiah 6:14 (MSG)

When you fall down the stairs carrying a bag of groceries and rip every tendon and ligament in your ankle, it hurts. A lot. You have surgery to repair said tendons and ligaments, which also hurts. A lot. But you’re still not cured. You have months (at least) of physical therapy to recondition your knee. And it hurts. A lot. Eventually, it hurts a little less when you wake up in the morning. Eventually, you graduate from a walker to a cane while walking. Eventually, you carry a bag of groceries up the stairs and forget the pain caused by that same action. But it takes a long time. Healing is a painful and long process.

Our emotions are even more fragile than knee tendons and ligaments. So why do we try to slap a Sunday School platitude on a deep emotional wound and tell the traumatized to stop crying about it? That would be like slapping a Band-Aid on a broken ankle. 

  • “Don’t worry about it; just pray.”
  • “Don’t be depressed; you have the joy of the Lord!”
  • “God’s with you, so you shouldn’t feel lonely.”
  • “Just turn the other cheek; it doesn’t matter what others say.”
  • “Time heals all wounds; you should be over that by now.”

I don’t know about you, but that triteness just doesn’t cut it for me. Those phrases leave people feeling like if only we were a better Christian, or believed more, or had more faith, or prayed more, we wouldn’t feel so bad. Author Alison Cook calls it “spiritual bypassing.” Christian author and comedian Jon Acuff calls it “Jesus juking” (you’ll catch the reference if you’re a sports fan). We Scots don’t call it anything because we don’t even acknowledge our feelings. 

No matter what you call it, the effect is the same: we’re stuffing our feelings down into the toes of our winter boots and hoping summer is eternal. Reality check: it’s not. Stuffing our emotions is not healthy. It leads to a whole host of other emotional issues (stress, anger, bitterness) and even physical problems (headaches, stomach aches, chronic muscle pain, and the list goes on). Eventually, you won’t be able to keep those emotions stuffed in. They’ll erupt like Mount St. Helens. 

Here’s the thing. Being a Christian does not make us “immune to normal human emotions” (Cook). My favorite example is David. Just look at all the psalms where he expresses anger, disappointment, fear, sadness, loneliness, shame, and a host of other emotions. But he doesn’t stop there. He works through them. Growth only occurs when we go THROUGH the emotions, not around them (thus the term bypass). 

There are no shortcuts in the Christian life. Psalm 23 talks about the valley of the shadow of death. John 16:33 confirms “In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we should not have feelings! Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” It does not say don’t be angry. “You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. You can’t transform what you’ve pretended doesn’t exist” (Cook).

BUT, don’t camp out in those negative emotions. Don’t vent to everyone about everything every minute of every day. As Christian author and speaker Lysa TerKeurst says, “emotions are not dictators.” We should not use emotions as excuses to act out, to stay in the valley, to exhibit bad behavior, or to make others feel worse. No! They’re indicators that we need to pay attention to something going on in our souls. 

Yes, Christ helps. Yes, Christ has forgiven me, so I should forgive others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Yes, Jesus offers his peace when I commit my anxieties to him, but the anxieties keep coming back! Yes, faith is the enemy of fear, but that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid!!

I think we would have less anxiety if we were allowed to talk openly about it. Sometimes that’s all I want—for my feelings to be ACKNOWLEDGED. That’s it. You don’t even have to understand it (because chances are I won’t believe that you do understand it unless I know you’ve been THROUGH it yourself). You don’t have to diagnose it. You don’t have to fix it. Please don’t offer an empty platitude. Just let me express myself. Part of the going-through the process is just acknowledging that those emotions are there. 

Acknowledging our emotions and going through the steps to heal them is just as necessary for a healthy emotional balance as physical therapy after ankle surgery to repair those torn tendons and ligaments. Not acknowledging and working through emotions is like just lying in a hospital bed after the ankle surgery for weeks on end. Sure, you have a new knee, but it’s not going to work very well if you don’t do the hard work of physical therapy. Maybe you think that the ankle should heal up in a few weeks, just like the removed appendix did. Nope. Maybe you think that the hurt should be gone as quickly as the anger (or vice versa). Nope. It takes as long as it takes. Maybe you think you’re all healed, but then a twinge swoops in unexpectedly and leaves you breathless for a moment. Does that mean you need another ankle surgery because you didn’t have enough faith that the surgery and physical therapy you already did was enough? No! It means that healing is a long-term process!!

Whoever gets sense loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding will discover good.

Proverbs 19:8 (ESV)

So, if we’re not offering Jesus Band-Aids, what should we offer instead? What do you think? What’s the most helpful thing you’ve heard when you’ve gone through hard times? Drop me a line and let me know what you think. I’ll be posting about it next time.

anxiety, devotional, healing, lessons learned

How Big Is Your Cross?

How big is your cross? Depends on your proximity. If you’re close, your cross is big. If you’re far away, your cross is small. In our oversized, bigger-is-better world, we equate size with greatness. 

But here’s the thing, sometimes we just need to get closer in order for it to be bigger. When we get closer to the cross, we’re closer to the Lord of the cross, the one who has already defeated our enemy—a big God who can tackle big problems.

When I forget to read my Bible, when I focus on problems, when I spend more time asking God for piddly things than praising Him for all things, when I focus on the chasm of the water between us, I find myself feeling distant from the cross and all it represents.

But when I read my Bible, focus on the beauty around me, remember to praise God for the blessings he has given me, and look for the connecting bridge (Jesus), I find myself craning my neck to take in the power and majesty of the cross that is right in front of me.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

James 4:8 ESV

What about you? Do you need to adjust your proximity? How big is your cross?