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 43:19
I struggle with change. Change produces a churning of uneasiness in my stomach as if I am swaying on suspension bridge strung high across a vast expanse.
As an introvert, change requires groundwork for me. My reactions to new things are directly correlated to the amount of preparation I am given. In other words I don’t do spontaneous well. Once I am grounded in my surroundings, like a well planted tree, I am not easily moved. Change, whether it is good or bad, expected or unexpected, throws me for a loop. The unknown of change is like a wilderness.
Needless to say, the past ten months have brought rapid unnerving change into my life. Maybe you too have felt toppled by changes this past year. These new changing landscapes require navigation on a steep learning curve.
In the same way, the Israelites were no strangers to change. When the book of Isaiah was written, they were crying out for freedom from the bondage of Babylon. They were far from home. Captive. They were desperate for change. They could not see a way out of their dark situation and they were losing hope. Their faith in God was slipping away.
In the midst of this desperate emotional and physical landscape, the prophet Isaiah reminds Israel of God’s past faithful deliverance. The images presented in verses 17 and 18 would not have been lost on them. The story of the miraculous parting of the Red Sea and ultimate destruction of the mighty Egyptian army was embedded deep in their collective memory. God was calling the people to remember how He had rescued them before. In the same way, God calls us to remember His past faithfulness in our lives.
But, the message doesn’t stop there. It continues with words of hope. No matter how well our minds know that God is faithful, our hearts need something to hold on to when we are in dark places. Verse 19 offers us hope, if we will stop and look for it. Through the prophet, God tells his people: remember my faithfulness, then pause for a moment. Stop and look. Look and See it. See it and perceive it. Perceive it and notice it. I am doing new things. I am making something new and wonderful out of what you are going through. If you will take a moment and look around you will see it. Things may look dry and bleak right now, but I, your God, am making a river in the desert.
So often this past year has felt dry and bleak, but in the midst of this quarantine, isolate, shelter at home, keep your distance wilderness I have seen God. When I stop and look I can catch glimpses of the rivers He has been building: restored intimacy in relationships, prayer warriors raised up, priorities shifted, and a dependency on Him built.
When we find ourselves lost in a wilderness of change or uncertainty, desperate for a way out, seeking direction, let’s remember how God delivered us in the past. Let’s look for what He is currently doing, tune into His presence, and trust Him to lead us from the past, through the wilderness safely home. He never leaves us. We just need to look.
"You're Kimberly, right?" he asked.
"My daughter, right?" He nodded in a half statement, half question.
"Right." I smiled.
He patted my knee and looked at me. "You know I was married before."
"I know." A little chuckle rippling through my response, "to my mother." (My parents divorced and my dad remarried over 30 years ago.)
We sat in silence side by side on the sofa like strangers on a park bench. I longed to find the question that would connect us back together again. I silently search my mind for one memory we could share.
Talking to my dad is like a waltz these days as wisps of memory dance in and out of our conversations. Timing is everything. Mornings are better than evenings. In person is better than phone calls. Sharing his childhood memories are better than mine. A question answer cadence is repeated over and over-1-2-3, 1-2-3.
God is teaching me many things through my dad's journey with dementia.
My dad can no longer join me in the world in which I live. The present day is missing for him. He often struggles with knowing if it is morning or evening, or even if he is married or not. When I go visit him, I can't expect to have a conversation with him as I have had in the past. He doesn't really know who I am. To him, I have become "that nice young person who came to visit."
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As each of you has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. I Peter 4:10
Can I tell you a secret?
I really don’t like to cook.
When I see on Facebook or get a text that someone has started a meal train for a friend in need, I start to sweat. Simultaneously feelings of guilt and shame begin to bead-up on my forehead. In my world of church ministry, not cooking for others brings a form of judgment. I often feel less than because cooking meals for others simply isn't me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my friends and care deeply about them; I just don’t like to cook. I feed my family, I make great game-day appetizers and snack food, but I am not a meat and casserole, Pinterest meal-maker.
It’s not my gift, nor my passion.
I Peter 4:10-11 tells us that we have all received a gift. A gift grounded in God’s grace. A gift given to provide grace-filled service to others. A God glory glowing gift.
Our gifts are unique. Our gifts are varied. Our gifts are precious. Our gifts are to be valued.
When the meal-train text comes around, I can begin to feel “less than” because I don’t want to ride that train. But, God wants me to realize I wasn’t gifted to ride the meal train. I was gifted in a different way. I was meant to ride a different train.
Need prayer? Ask me. I’m good at talking with God. Prayer doesn’t make me sweat; it makes my heart soar. Need encouragement? A strong hug? A good book recommendation? I’m your girl. My gifts use words to encourage hearts and souls, not meals.
I may never make you a meal, but I might meet you for coffee or bring you Chick-Fil-A for dinner. I’ll sit with you, talk with you, weep with you, or maybe even make you laugh. These are my gifts. These are the physical manifestations of God’s grace I can offer you.
In the same way, God has uniquely gifted you. He has placed within you passions, talents and desires that are uniquely yours. The gifts you have been given are meant to be used in service to Him. Your gifts matter. You matter. You can touch others in ways that I cannot. I am grateful for my friends who think about meals, but I am also grateful for my friends who send me random texts of encouragement. Each one is using her gift to serve her God to meet a need in my life.
I’m learning to embrace my gifts. I’m learning to lean into God’s spirit to notice the moments He’s nudging me to use my gifts to offer grace to those around me. How about you? What gift do you need to embrace today? Ask God to show you how He wants to use your gifts today to offer grace to someone who needs it. It could mean making a casserole for the next meal train, but it might not.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I struggle with not feeling good enough. I continually prop myself up against the wall of comparison and make a little mark. When I step back and look, I can see other marks higher than mine. My mind instantly begins comparing. Almost. Not quite. No matter how hard I try, I’m below the line I want to achieve.
I grew up believing that if I was the good girl who did everything right I would be accepted and my life would be rewarded. I believed that if I didn’t create conflict and was easy to get along with I was doing things right. Man, just give me the rules and I will follow them. As a child, being submissive, quiet, and hard- working paid off for me. I made good grades in school. I didn’t cause conflict at home. I was faithful to church. I was the poster child of a good girl and in many ways my efforts were rewarded. The trouble was when things didn’t work out, someone was upset, or I made a mistake. Immediately, feelings of worthlessness would wash over me and I would feel guilty. My self-worth was based on my performance and at some point in time I would fall short.
The apostle Paul struggled with meeting expectations as well. In Romans chapter 7 he shares his inner conflict of wanting to do what is right, but not being able to do it. No matter how hard he tried he could never measure up to the standard of perfection. He wrestled with how guilty he felt because he couldn’t get it right. His mind swirled with all the things he was doing wrong. He wanted nothing more than to be free. Constantly struggling to do everything right was exhausting. He was following the rules, but the rules just kept get harder to keep. He loved God, but his thoughts and actions didn’t always reflect it.
So, what do we do when no matter how hard we try, isn’t good enough? What do we do when in our minds we love God, want to do what is right, but fall short in our daily lives?
Paul gives us the answer in the first two verses of Romans chapter 8. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Bottom line, we have to stop trying. We have to stop trying to earn the approval of God. We have stop trying to be accepted by our good behavior. We have to stop thinking we can do it.
Trying to live a life good enough is like trying to live under the Law. The Law only reminds us of what we are doing wrong. It sets a standard we can never achieve. The Law was never designed to save us. It was designed to reveal to us how we fall short of God’s standard. God didn’t create me to be a good girl. He created me knowing that I would need to be a redeemed girl. The truth is Jesus completely and permanently accepts me, no matter what. He unconditionally loves me. He took all my shortcomings, sins, and failures and made them His own. In exchange, He gave me His righteousness. A righteousness that God cannot reject no matter what. My redemption is complete.
So, the next time my inner critic begins to chirp at me about not being good enough, I am going to stop, breath, and tell it to be quiet because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
I am enough because He is enough.
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)
As much as I hate to admit it, I have spent way too much time watching TV during this time of quarantine. A favorite in our household has been Survivor. Even though we watched most of the 40 seasons live, enough time has passed that I have forgotten many of the twists and turns of each season. It’s it like catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. Honestly, I’ve enjoyed revisiting these past seasons.
In case you missed it, the premise of the reality TV show is that individuals compete for the prize of a million dollars and the title of “Sole Survivor.” The show is a mix of survival skills, physical competitions and having good social skills. In order to win, players must build relationships with other players. Being just smart or strong isn’t enough to win the game, you have to be able to get along with people.
Hunger, sleep deprivation, and simply being around ten other people 24 hours a day, leads players to get pretty snarky with each other. Hanging out alone, or just being with the ones you like, becomes an easy way to navigate survivor life. But, the trouble with those tactics is they don’t build the community of support that is needed to win. Staying detached and building cliques, alienates too many fellow tribe members and ensures a player an early exodus. Needless to say, the show has quite a bit of human relationship drama on it.
As I watch reruns of Survivor, God has been revealing some relationship deficits in my own life.
Throughout my life there have been moments when I didn’t directly mean to, but my actions and attitudes, alienated me from others. I have said hurtful things in moments of anger, hunger, or fear. I have snapped at my husband or barked at my children my personal discomfort overriding my amiability. In order to feel emotional safe and secure, I have built alliances with a comfortable circle of friends. But, my safe circle can alienate those who don’t quite fit in with us. My own awkwardness in relationships has at times detached and blinded me to the needs of the people around me. Internal insecurities often paralyze me from reaching out to others. In my neediness, I have unintentionally alienated others.
Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us that alienation and isolation are not what God wants for us. He wants us to be connected. (I Corinthians 12:12). He wants us to be joined together (Colossians 2:2). But human connection doesn’t just happen. It takes intention on our part. It takes choosing to take action. Community cannot be created without interaction. Loneliness cannot dispel itself. Isolation only dissipates as a greater sense of belonging fills its lonely space.
In the movie, Toy Story, when toy falls out of a window, the plastic orange monkeys quickly jump from their barrel linking together extending themselves to make a chain until the toy in need is rescued. Their willingness to leave the safety of their barrel connecting together arm in arm saves a lost toy.
Likewise, in order for us to rescue each other from isolation, we have to become chains of connection. We have to build community by linking together like the toy monkeys. I need to reach ahead to the woman who has gone before me for wisdom or behind me to the woman who needs encouragement (Titus 2:3). By linking arms in shared experiences, we can begin to belong to each other.
Maybe, you are the first person in the chain of connection. You are the one initiating the relationship because you saw the need and are reaching out. Maybe, you are in the middle of the chain bonding two women together. Maybe, you are at the end of the long chain of support dangling out into the unknown. Or, maybe you are the one desperately needing rescuing.
I don’t know where you are in relationship to those around you, but I do know we need each other. We need to start building chains connecting women to each other instead of alienating them from each other. We need to be reaching out drawing others into our circle of connections.
Connection can begin with simply speaking up and introducing ourselves to someone new. Maybe it’s engaging in conversations with someone who is different than we are. It might require vulnerability and asking for help. Connection requires time. Mindfulness is needed to reach out beyond our circle, to seek out the needs of others, and to link together to meet them.
I don’t want to be voted off the island like in Survivor because I failed to build relationships with those around me. I want to be more like the orange plastic monkeys who leave their safe haven in order to lock arms together creating a chain of hope for someone who needs it. I want to become intentionally linked to those around me.
“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 (ESV)
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Romans 12:17
Sometimes doing the right thing is easy and sometimes it’s not. I wish I could say I always choose to do the right thing, but I don’t. I can wage a pretty good passive-aggressive war when I feel like I have been mistreated.
I have been waging an internal battle with my heart for years. My heart has a problem with perceived personal injustices. It doesn’t handle them well nor forgets them easily
My typical response when I perceive that I have been wronged is a two-pronged approach. First, I avoid the one who hurt me (either physically or emotionally), and second I start garnering allies. By nonchalantly dropping negative comments to those around me I draw others to my side of the conflict. Needless to say, conflict resolution is not my strong suit. I am better at conflict avoidance.
Paul writes a lot in Romans 12 about how we are to handle those who hurt us and none of those responses are to withdraw and sabotage the relationship. Paul instructs us to love, to be kind, to give, and most of all to forgive. I don’t know about you, but I can’t do it. I run away, complain, and seethe with anger. I slam cabinets, give cold shoulders, and breathe deep sighs of disappointment. My desire to handle things correctly only goes so far before my hurt feelings take over.
So, what is a girl to do when she can’t do it right? She owns up to it. She turns it over to the One who created her and knows her conflict avoidance tendencies. She uses the conflict to draw her into a deeper relationship with her Creator. She prays about it, continuously. She prays for the guardian of Psalms 141:3 to protect her mouth. She prays for insight and wisdom. She prays and takes steps to be kind. She prays for courage and shares her feelings even when she is afraid. She asks God to use her for His glory in the situation. She surrenders what she can’t do to the One who can. She allows the conflict to draw her into a continual conversation with her Creator. She invites Jesus into the problem and follows Him towards a solution one step at a time.
God is changing me through the conflicts in my life. He is changing the way I pray. He is changing the way I react. He is changing my heart. I wish I could say it is easy, but it’s not. Surrender is never easy. Heart work is never easy. Change is hard work. But, I draw encouragement from the truth that God will help me every step of the way.
Clap your hands all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the Lord the Most High is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. Psalms 47:1-2 (ESV)
The air was electric. The stadium moved beneath our feet as the crowd jumped up and down. (It was the “bounce house” for a reason.) A minute and a half remained on the clock. The visiting team had just scored. With a kicked off and 100 yards to go, the home team fans held their collective breath. Boom. Ninety-five yards later and no time left on the clock, the stadium erupted into a deafening roar. What seemed impossible 90 seconds and 100 yards ago was now a reality. The Knights defeated the Bulls 42-49 keeping their undefeated season intact.
Much like the UCF Knights in 2017, the nation of Israel had much to celebrate. The temple was complete. The country was at peace. A wise king was on the throne. It was time to jump up and down and celebrate. In Psalm 47:1-4, the songwriter encouraged the people to celebrate their great and mighty God by clapping and shouting loudly in songs of praise. The praise was not unwarranted. God had delivered them from their enemies. They were living safely and securely in their own land. The ark was returning to the temple (2Chronicles 7). Their joy was to be an uproarious celebration in the presence of all people. It was not a time to be prim or proper. It was time to let loose and let the world know of God’s great love and salvation.
Loud celebration was not difficult for the crowd at the UCF/USF football game. It exploded out of everyone simultaneously. No matter what, you couldn’t help but jump up and cheer with each exciting play. The swell of those rising around you lifted you to your feet like a wave breaking on the ocean. No one had to be told to clap or shout. You just did. You couldn’t help it.
Our praise to God should be the same way: free, unhindered, spontaneous, joyful, and contagious. Praise should flow freely from our hearts to our mouths. The joy we feel because of God’s presence in our life should automatically open our hearts to praise. No one looks around at a football game to see if anyone notices them cheering. No one compares notes about the right way to cheer. A shout. A fist pump. A head nod. Ferocious clapping. All okay. Neither should we feel the need to look around during worship to see if anyone notices our praise. Singing. Hands raised. Eyes open. Eyes closed. Off-key. All okay. God just wants to hear our heart-felt uninhibited praise.
Today, I challenge you, and myself, to take some time and think about our own corporate praise. Are we wholeheartedly praising the Lord or are we holding back? Let’s take a moment and make a mental (or even physical) list inventorying all the things the Lord has done for us. Then, let’s bring that list with us the next time we attend a place of worship and use it to turn our corporate praise into an honest moment of personal celebration of God’s goodness.
It might just be the game changer our worship needs.
And we desire each of you to show the same eagerness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:11-12
Have you ever just wanted to give up? Throw in the towel? Quit? Or maybe at the very least, pull the covers over your head and hide out in bed until you have the strength to face the day?
I know I have. Life can be exhausting. Sometimes I feel like I give so much to those around me that there is nothing left of me. The stresses of life often leave me gasping for air under normal circumstances nearly suffocating in times of distress.
Just as a car won’t run on an empty tank of gas, I can’t function on an empty soul. Running out of gas is never fun and always seems to happen at the worst time. The sputter, the jerk and then the sudden silence is quickly met with wails. “Not now! I’m almost there. Can’t you make it just a little a farther?”
Denial yields to reality as the moving vehicle glides to a stop. No amount of coxing, begging or pleading will make it move again. Fuel is the only thing that will bring the engine back to life.
Just as a dead car needs gasoline to operate, we need fuel to function. Life takes energy and if we are not careful, we will find ourselves on empty. Life comes with continuous demands that deplete our physical and emotional tanks. We rush around thinking we have enough energy to get just one more task done only to find our energy sputtering as we roll to a stop. Worn out. Ready to quit. Unable to go on. When our souls are depleted, our spirits sag and our energy wanes. Just like a car that has run out of gas, our productivity comes to a stop.
Hebrews 6:10-12 is a reminder that God is the filler of our souls. He sees our work. He knows our hearts. He monitors our tank gauges. He desires to keep us filled and operating at peak capacity. But, we have to choose to let Him. My car lights up to indicate it’s time to get gas. It will even tell me how many more miles I can drive before the tank is empty. If I ignore all those warnings indicators and keep driving, I will run out of gas and my car will stop. If I am wise, I will refuel my tank before it’s too late.
My life has indicators too. I have built in signals that let me know I am depleting my soul. When I become short-tempered, cranky, unkind, negative, and unmotivated, my soul is telling me something. It’s indicating to me that I need to fill my spirit. My life tank is on empty. I need to take a moment and fill up on the “assurance of hope” that is found only in Jesus. If I don’t take time to refuel my soul by filling my heart with the goodness of God, I stop effectively emulating the love and compassion of Christ.
Take a moment today and check your gauges. What are your indicators signaling to you today? Where’s your fuel gauge? Then stop and give your soul what it needs to day. Cars and lives don’t run on empty.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. I Corinthians 13:4-7
I’m a big consumer of podcasts. A wide variety of informative, entertaining, and uplifting stories distract me while I’m logging multiple miles running. Like a good book, a podcast can take me away from the reality I’m experiencing until I arrive at my destination.
Yesterday, I was listening to Bob Goff’s Dream Big podcast and he made a statement that stuck with me. He said “Words that are spoken by kind people are ones that have a shelf life in our lives. Surround yourself with kind people who speak words of truth to you... Give away generously the good that has been stored up in you.”
Think about it.
Kindness matters. Kindness matters to us and to others. Kindness sticks with us. It makes us smile. It makes us feel good inside. It makes whatever burden we are carrying lighter. Kindness makes tough times easier to bear. Kindness matters.
I was waiting a few years ago for my husband to wake up from outpatient surgery. I had been sitting for a couple of hours alone in the dark when a nurse quietly came in propped my feet up on an extra chair and covered my legs with a warm blanket and walked out. She didn’t say anything. I hadn’t asked her for anything. She just did it. Her small act of unsolicited kindness changed my day. It made my waiting easier. I felt seen. I felt loved. I felt cared for. I get a little misty just thinking about it today. That one small kind act had a shelf life in my life and the one who did it doesn’t even know.
We have been given so much goodness by God through Jesus and because of that we can be generous in goodness to others. Our faith should make us generous. Our world is filled with fear and anxiety right now. Let’s be conduits of hope, grace, kindness, and love. Let’s reach off our lives’ shelf of kindness and feed someone some hope today. Let’s all do one small thing to show kindness to someone else today because kindness matters.
Little Tokens of Love
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)
It wasn’t my preference, but the middle seat was the only option available to me for my flight to North Carolina to visit my son and daughter-in-law. The flight was full in spite of the fact that the COVID-19 virus was beginning to spread. I was fortunate. I couldn’t have picked better seatmates. The man to my left plugged in his headphones and promptly went to sleep. An American Airlines pilot sat on my right. The awkward first moments of conversation with my pilot flying companion began just before takeoff. As the stressed out passengers haggled over overhead storage space and seat swapping so they wouldn’t have to sit by the window, we both shook our heads. “It’s a one hour flight people” she chuckled. I nodded and I told her I taught high school and was often amazed at how adults were often just overgrown adolescents.
A few moments later, I asked her about the Charlotte airport and my connection time. I had under an hour to make my connecting flight to Raleigh and I had never navigated the Charlotte airport before. I wasn’t worried, but I wanted to be reassured that I had enough time to make my next flight.
She asked about the gates for my flights. She said if they were both in the main terminal it wouldn’t be a problem but all I had at the moment were the flight numbers. She extrapolated from the numbers that more than likely my next flight was on a large plane, not a commuter, and the flight would be out of the main terminal. She reassured me that it shouldn’t be a problem. A ten minute walk max.
Shortly after take-off, I found the gate numbers and showed her. She nodded. Main terminal. No problem. You might even have time to grab a quick drink or bite to eat. I plugged in my audio book and left her alone after that.
When we landed in Charlotte, she looked out the window, turned to me, and before I could say anything gave me directions to get to my gate. Then she graciously offered to move out of my way so I could get off the plane in front of her.
Her directions were perfect.
When I reached my destination I wanted to turn and thank her, but it wasn’t possible. She was no longer sitting next to me. The best I could do was to pray for her as she continued to do her job flying planes.
You could say I was lucky or that it was a coincidence I sat by a pilot that day, but I choose to believe it was God meeting a small unspoken not fully realized need in my life.
I could have found my way through the airport. It wasn’t hard. The Charlotte airport is not that big. But, it was nice stepping off the plane and knowing exactly where I was going. Nothing I saw took me by surprise. It was exactly how she described it.
Friend, God loves us. God cares for us. God meets all our needs, even ones we don’t recognize we have. He makes a way for us even before we get to the starting line. Life is a struggle sometimes. It requires navigating a lot of unknown territory. And the unknown tends to make most of us a little nervous at best, panicked at worst.
My airline encounter gave me a glimpse of God’s intimate love for me. He cared enough to give me a guide for the next leg of my journey. A guide I didn’t really need, but one that nevertheless made my trip so much easier.
I don’t know what journey you are on today, but I do know you can trust God with whatever burden you are carrying. He loves you and is providing for you in ways you don’t even see yet. Just like I didn’t know how nice an airport guide would be, He provided one in the seat next to me anyways.
So, in the uncertainties you face today, when you are unsure of so many things; trust Him. Trust His love. Trust His heart. God is constantly sprinkling little tokens of His love all around us. He is doing far more than we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). It could even be something as simple as placing a pilot in the seat next to you.
Between a husband, 2 sons, and teaching high school my sanity is found in running and Starbucks. I have a circle of running friends who inspire me to be authentic and real as I live a life of faith before them.