devotional, encouragement, holidays

Advent Week 2–Peace & Preparation

When my kids were small, their father would take them to the mall (or WalMart) to buy me a gift for Christmas and my birthday, which are two days apart. They would be so excited to wrap their gifts and place them under the tree—almost as excited as they were about shaking and squeezing all the gifts with their own names attached. 

A month, let alone a few weeks, was such a long time for little girls to wait! They would grow more excited and animated about those gifts under the tree every day until I thought they would burst from excitement! 

Each day, more gifts would appear under the tree, building the anticipation even more. More Christmas cookies, more Christmas carols, and more Christmas parties fueled their frenzy.

Our custom used to be that we would each pick one small gift to open on Christmas Eve before heading off to bed. One year, my younger girl was so anxious for me to open the gift she had picked out for me, that she asked if I would please open “the umbrella-shaped gift”!  

As with children (young and old!) at Christmas time, we, too, anxiously await the second return of Christ to bring us peace, right all the wrongs, and deliver us from the cares of this present world. 

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper. Psalm 72:12

Psalm 72:12

Even though the Israelites were longing for the promised Messiah, the Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago was not prepared for Jesus’ birth. 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,    
from ancient days.

Micah 5:2

We’re looking for a Savior, just as much as the Israelites were over 2,000 years ago. So how can we prepare for Jesus’ peace during Advent? We can do good things for those around us. We can love and care for those within our sphere of influence. And we can pray to be transformed more to His likeness.

But just like the flurry of preparations that take place during December, we also must prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. Lord, help us remember to prepare our hearts for your coming. Soften our hearts. Give us open hearts to receive the King.

Friend, what do you need to do to prepare your heart for the coming King this Advent season?

Read Advent Week 1, Hope.

anxiety, devotional, healing, lessons learned, midlife faith, 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, devotional, grief, healing, midlife faith

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, midlife faith

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!