Thursday, June 30, 2016

Weeding Out the Gardens of Our Heart

About a month ago, I spent several hours pulling weeds from our flowerbeds. It hasn’t been that long since my last efforts—really. But this week, I noticed it’s that time again.

I grumbled a little, mumbling something about why couldn’t the weeds stay out of the beds for the rest of the summer. Mumbling a little more about how much effort I had already put into these beds.

But in the midst of my bad attitude, the Lord spoke to my heart about a spiritual principle.

You see, sometimes I want to work on the weeds in the garden of my heart just once—and then I want to pretend the rest of the time that nothing ever creeps back in.


Because it’s the place from which I do life—where I feel, where I make decisions, where I act and react.

If you’ve ever read a Danny Silk book, you know he’s all about the heart. His favorite question to ask is “How’s your heart?”

As I’ve learned more and more to be real with my Heavenly Dad, to let him see my heart and all of me, I’ve learned I have to ask the hard questions, like “How’s my heart today?”

If I neglect that question, maybe it’s okay for a day or two. But if I let a whole week go by, there’s likely something growing in there, and it’s not a pretty flower.

Weeds are ugly little things, and they look like unrest, impatience, offense, frustration, control, fear, self-pity, self-doubt.

I’m not much of a gardener, but I know a few things. One is that you can’t just pull the head of the weed out of the garden.

You have to get to the root.

I also know that even when you purge a flowerbed from weeds, there’s a good chance more will be back eventually. (Thus my grumblings this week…)

Let me tell you friends, picking weeds is not glamorous; it's a chore. And it often takes a while to really dig in and get those flowerbeds cleaned out. 

You'll get your hands dirty. 

You might be a little sore. 

However, God has promised that we have everything we need for life and godliness.

We’re also given his Holy Spirit, who is our helper and friend. The fruits of His Spirit are like Round Up to the flowerbeds of our heart.

But only when wet let him come in and take over, only when we let our hearts be filled with His Spirit.

And if you’re a farmer or a gardener, you know, even once with Round Up only lasts for a season.

That’s why Ephesians says we have to “Be filled with the Spirit.” The aspect of the verb there means “Be continuously being filled.”

How’s your heart today, my friend? Do you have some weeds to pull? Need some Holy Spirit Round Up?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

When Selling a Bed Becomes a Lesson in Patience

This weekend, I experienced my first attempt at selling something through an online Facebook garage sale page. I posted an extra full-sized wrought iron bed we needed to get rid of, and within ten minutes, I had more than one offer.

The first offers that came in were for slightly less than my asking price. Not by much—but a little less. I debated for two hours—literally—whether to settle or wait.

My husband, who is always the voice of reason, calmly shrugged and said, “Babe, it’s been like an hour. Just wait and see what you have tomorrow.”

Good advice, right?

Yeah… But I’m impatient, and sometimes everything feels urgent—even when it’s not an urgent thing at all.

I waited a little longer (and by little, I mean maybe 30 more minutes). Then I accepted the first person who offered, albeit at a reduced priced.

Of course, not 15 minutes after I settled, I had three more offers—for full price. By the time I went to bed, I was getting messages from two different people, begging for the bed. (I’m not even joking!) By the next morning (not even 24 hours later), I had 14 offers on it.

But I felt like I had to honor my original ‘Yes,’ and on Tuesday, an excited single-mom came and picked up the bed and mattresses.

I knew I did the right thing, but I also felt a little miffed. If only I had waited…

I don’t write this to self-deprecate or condemn myself, but the truth is, I wonder sometimes whether I rob myself of God’s fullest blessings because I get impatient.

I’m reminded of the old sermon story of the boy who throws a fit in Walmart, begging for the $150 bike. His parents hold their ground and seem like the worst parents ever—except that they already bought him a $300 bike for his birthday next week.

They know what he doesn’t know.

God always knows, too.

If I had a spiritual resume of my greatest traits and qualities, patience would not be on it. Intercessor, maybe. Worshiper, Giver—sure.

But patient, submitted, willing to release control—nope. None of those.

I know God’s not mad at me—nor does he punish me or withhold blessing from me. He’s a good Father, and He probably spends a lot of time whispering, “Hey, dear, I have a better blessing for you if you’ll wait it out.”

I’m not trying to over-spiritualize here either. It’s just as possible that God’s best plan was for the single-mom to get the bed at the reduced rate. Maybe my impatience wasn’t about me; maybe it was always about her blessing.

But either way, I’m reminded this week that I need to surrender control, be patient, let go of those things that really aren’t urgent (which, by the way, is pretty much everything!), and submit my heart to my Father’s heart.

If I can just slow down, just for a second, I might hear Him whisper.

Friends, do any of you struggle with that impatient spirit—where everything feels urgent? Do you struggle to wait on God’s timing?

I’d love to hear any advice you have to offer! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

When you find your nest empty...

Today, I’m writing about an area of marriage that I’ve personally never dealt with, but someday will. This may sound like I’m relaying advice that you may think I’m not qualified to speak about. I’m not, but my sources are, and I trust them because I’ve seen their success.

Recently, I had two work friends dealing with the same marital problem, and it awakened me to make sure that I don’t see this same issue in my own marriage down the road. As they reach their middle years, their kids are graduating high school and leaving home or are close to it. They look at their spouse or their spouse looks at them, and they suddenly realize that they don’t know this person.

They say, “Where is the man/woman I married?” “Who have they become?” “Do I even love this person they’ve become?”

In one example, the husband works all the time. He’s out of town a lot and doesn’t have a lot of energy when he is home. In the other example, both spouses work. Both couples have kids that have had lots of activities over the years. They’ve been busy for 20+ years and haven’t had a chance to take a breath. Sound familiar? Now that their kids are starting to leave, and they aren’t so busy, they realize they don’t know each other.

First, if you are in this situation, there is certainly hope. Lots of it, actually. I recommend counseling for any long term or major marital problems. Find someone who is a Christian and is supportive of both of you. Also, bring the issue out in the open. Talk about it plainly, but make it clear that you want this to work and you love your spouse. Divorce shouldn’t be an option.

One of the couples that inspired me to write this just took a long vacation together. In many cases, just spending time enjoying each other will remind you of what this is all about.

"A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person." ~ Mignon McLaughlin

Second, if you aren’t there yet, work on your relationship now. Tyke and Connie Dipprey shared with Laura and I that they intentionally made the decision to not grow apart as their kids aged. As their friends struggled, they were closer than ever. Today, they are happy empty nesters that love each other very much. We are so thankful for their advice that caused us to think about this, years ago!

Other couples we know have taken vacations together over the years. Letting the kids stay at their grandparents while Mom and Dad are somewhere nice is fun for everyone. One friend even told me that he has a standing date night with his wife every other Friday. What I’m saying is, you have to be intentional about spending time with your spouse.

Sadly, one of the couples I mentioned at the beginning of this post didn’t make it. Honestly, with some effort, I believe they could have. Marriage is work, even if it’s the best work ever. The other couple is doing great. It is my goal to make sure that Laura and I are closer than ever when that day comes. I hope this is your goal too.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Faithful in the Battles

I'm recycling a post this week from 2009. I rarely recycle posts, but I was looking through my blog for something else, and I stumbled on this oldie-but-goodie.

Although the battles described here are now 7 years old and seem like so long ago, I felt encouraged by the reminder that God does fight for me!

Hope you'll be encouraged too:

I've been reading through Deuteronomy, and the shortened version of the Israelite's' story. Already, the Lord has made so many applications relevant in my own life. In Chapter 2, the Lord raises up a new generation to begin moving in the direction of the Promised Land. The first step in that direction is a battle. If you read in verses 30-31, it states that God hardened the king's heart, causing the battle. It's possible that the Israelites could have peaceably passed through, or that the King of Sihon would have just let them pass, as the kings did in Seir and Ar. 

But God needed to begin to lay a foundation of faith in their hearts that 1) There will be many battles, and 2) that God will fight for them. Of course, the older generation knew this from Egypt--but God was laying a new foundation of faith in these Israelites' hearts that wasn't just about what He did then, but what He could do now.

Sometimes God makes the path more difficult and causes a battle, in order to show us a greater victory.

In Chapter 3, God builds on their victory in Sihon to fight a greater battle: not just a city, but an entire Kingdom--Bashan. Sihon was baby steps of faith building to a greater battle, just as Bashanwill be baby steps to the greater battle that is Jerricho and beyond into the Promised Land. And each step along the way, God reminds them gently, "Remember, I fight for you." 

In Chapter 4, Moses pauses to remind them to keep these works of God hidden in their hearts, that they don't forget what He's done and depart from Him. Though Moses predicts that the Israelites will one day disobey and forget--and be scattered--God, in his mercy, will take them back when they begin to seek Him again.

In my own life, I think about all the mini financial battles the Lord has brought us through this year--just to show that He fights for us, and He is faithful. In January, we thought we'd owe $1500 from Howell's wreck, but God took care of it. In February, we unexpectedly owed $1600. And God provided. In March, I went to Pennsylvania, which costs us another $1500 in flights and hotels. But God provided again. All the while, we were trying to save money to buy a house--yet these expenses we hadn't anticipated kept coming up.

But in May, God had doubled our savings, in a way we can't explain--just to say that He did it.

In June, we found a house, and we prayed for the Lord to provide our closing costs, and He did. In July, we closed on our FIRST home--and all the extra money we thought we'd put into savings that month was nearly spent on other factors. In August, we thought we were ready to finally start saving again, when we received heart-breaking news--the greatest test of all--that we owed $6000 to Howell's company (they'd been taking the wrong amount out of his checks), and that we'd be losing nearly half his paycheck each month.

We cried out to the Lord and told Him we weren't prepared. We panicked and worried about how we'd make it. We tried to "fix it" ourselves, by taking me off Howell’s insurance to cut out $500/mo in expenses. But God had a plan and a purpose. And in September, He miraculously provided the money we needed--yes, all $6000 (that in itself is another cool story! :)). And He allowed me to get back on Howell's insurance (after the enrollment period), despite the strain it will place on our budget, because He wanted to be the one who fights our battles.

And even though this month, Howell will only receive 1/3 of his paycheck, to cover these insurance costs, God has already caused our bank accounts to be filled and our needs to be met. You see, when we are faithful to tithe and to give above the tithe to ministries He puts in our heart, to the point that we begin to say, "God it's not our money, but yours," He is faithful to return to us tenfold what we need. Like the Israelites, God used this whole year--nearly 10 months now--to bring us into a new battle.

And each time, He showed us, "It is I who fight for you."

Thursday, June 9, 2016

An Update on the Waiting Game - Part Two

Summer has arrived, and although I’m teaching ENGL 1301 for the first term, I have lofty goals for my writing projects. I thought I’d offer a quick update since I’ve been ‘mum’ on the subject for a while now.

I’m waiting to hear from the agent I sent my manuscript to in February. She and I have had a few email exchanges since then, but I think of her often and pray for God to give me favor just about every day!

I spent the first couple months of Part Two of the Waiting Game doing just that—waiting. But when I attended the ACFW local event in April in Colorado Springs, I felt a renewed excitement to pursue my writing journey.

I already told you I received incredible feedback that weekend from a dear mentor who is a multi-published, award-winning author. Within a few weeks of that experience, I joined a critique group, which has been rewarding as well. It’s so helpful to have other people look at your chapters and point out sentences that could be tighter, perspectives that could be stronger, or characterizations that could be better.

Obviously, it’s great to have a reader gush over a scene or tell you how much she appreciates a certain line or moment in the chapter—but it’s genuinely as great to have a reader point out flaws or problems. I’ve found the feedback invaluable in making my manuscript as strong as it can be.

One of the women I met at that local event in April encouraged me to enter some contests this summer and also consider a potential publisher as a target for my manuscript. I consider her a God-send that weekend (and beyond!) because she opened my eyes to some new possibilities—and gave me the confidence to try.

So, at the end of May and last week, I entered some contests for my manuscript, and I have a couple more that I’d like to enter before the end of this month. My hope is that my work will receive the favor and attention of the judges—potential editors at major publishing houses and agents who represent Christian authors.

In the meantime, I am still subbing my chapters out to the group—and when I finish having the manuscript critiqued, I’d like to send it off to the potential publisher.

And if I’m ambitious enough and can find the time between teaching and editing, I’d like to keep writing this summer. I started my second book last November. At this point, I only have about five or six chapters, and almost every day I’m thinking of the characters in my head, imaging scenes and plotting dialogue exchanges. Now it’s time to actually start putting more of that to paper.

For the most part, I'm still playing the waiting game, but it’s nice to feel like I’m actively pursuing this journey as well. Ultimately, I'm encouraged by the response my story has had so far, and I continue to believe that God put it on my heart, and He’ll make a way for it to be read by others, however He wants to work that out.

This quote still resonates so deeply in my soul

I’ll just keep writing… and editing… and putting myself out there. :) 

Monday, June 6, 2016

When Love Looks Like Sacrifice

Sometimes love looks like sacrifice…

Like when my husband lets me listen to Celine Dion’s Christmas album year-round. It’s April, and I’m jammin’ to “Christmas Eve” on a road trip, and he doesn’t care.

Like when we listen to Celine’s station on Pandora for six hours while scrubbing the glue from our soon-to-be stained concrete floor in preparation for our attendance at her concert in Vegas—my thirtieth birthday present.

It’s healthy for your marriage when you each have different interests and hobbies—but it’s also good for you to support each other, even when it’s not “your thing.” That’s love.

If your spouse likes to golf, for example—join him or her on the range. Even if you don’t play, you can sit and watch or ride in the cart.

If your spouse likes to run 10Ks, but you don’t—show up at a race with your water and sign and cheer him or her on.

If your spouse likes to shop—it won’t kill you to hold bags and offer an opinion for a few hours on a Saturday.

Your company is what matters. Too often married couples end up leading separate lives because they resort to, “Well, that’s her thing” or “That’s his thing.” Why can’t it be our thing—even if one of us is only a spectator?

Celine has long been iconic in my house. I grew up knowing all her songs, singing full-fledged living room concerts with my sister and Tomi. We sang “That’s the Way It Is” or “Because You Loved Me” or “Love Can Move Mountains” when a member of our family needed cheering up.

Y’all, we had fake microphones and choreographed dance moves and all. It was a thing.

To see Celine was on my bucket list—not necessarily Howell’s. But he gave me this present and thoroughly enjoyed himself the whole time.

In fact, he said, and I quote, “That was better than I expected.” Ha! :) 

Having different interests is perfectly healthy—and time apart to do your thing is good, too. But guard your marriage against the separate syndrome!

Show your support when you can—even if it requires sacrifice. Your spouse will be so grateful! 

p.s. Although Vegas is definitely not our kind of place, the Celine Dion concert was everything I hoped for and more! She performed beautifully! :) 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

On Turning 30

I turned 30 this week. The big 3 – 0. I thought it would feel more dramatic, but in reality, it only feels, well, natural.

Most people dread turning 30 because it’s the first mile marker of adulthood that requires us to assess who we are and where we are going. I suppose, generally, there’s a desire to retain the youth of our 20s. It’s why turning 29 (again!) is a well-known joke among women.

Now that I’ve joined the club, I get it. I’ll probably never have my 18-year-old body or my 21-year-old stamina for all-nighters while working multiple jobs and taking over-the-regular load of coursework.

Those days are behind me because, let’s be real, ten o’clock is my bedtime now, and except on rare occasions, staying up later than 11:00 or midnight on a weekend stretches me.

But the truth is, I didn’t dread 30. I welcomed it, celebrated it, and embraced it—ending the evening in my favorite place, where I browsed titles of new fiction releases and dreamed of seeing my name on those shelves one day.

Maybe that’s my personality—to always look ahead, wishing I were further down the road than today.

I’ve shared before how I have to battle an inferiority complex I face all the time as the youngest—the youngest in my family, the youngest of my friends, the youngest in my PhD program, the youngest faculty in my department, etc.

Maybe it began long ago as a child, always wishing to be X age like my brother or sister so I could do A, B, or C.

But in January of 2015, I put a stop to the days of wishing ahead, and I began to embrace this season, MY season and all that God says I am.

Maybe embracing 30 is simply related to that decision.

Can I tell you a secret?

When Howell and I married, we were 22, and I was halfway through my master’s program. We began planning our future, dreaming for our family as most couples do. Finishing grad school was important to me, so we declared that we would get pregnant with our first child in 2011, after I finished my PhD coursework. We would then have our second child a few years later—perhaps in 2013 or 2014.

If life didn’t go as planned, we had a little cushion, of course, but the goal was to have our family complete by the time we turned 30—in 2016.

Back then, in 2008, these 22-year-old kids never considered that God might have a different plan.

Today, I’m 30, and my plan is so far off track that it went out the window a while ago.

But you know what?

I don’t feel the least bit sorry for my altered course.

For this thirtieth birthday, I felt so incredibly loved and treasured.

My sweet husband and my best friend managed to throw me a surprise party ten days before my actual birthday. (That’s a challenging feat!) I was overwhelmed by the mere presence of so many friends and family.

On my actual day of birth, I felt equally as loved all over again. Why? Because of the people in my life.

I’ve said before how grateful I am for this blessed life I live. I have an extraordinary marriage with a life-long partner, and I have relationships with family and friends that are rare and precious.

My 22-year-old self anticipated a different 30, but this newly minted 30-year-old self is quite pleased with where I am.

Sure, my metabolism might be steadily sinking, but you know what? My best days are still in front of me.

I’m only one-third (-ish) through this beautiful life, which means there’s still so much living to do.

So what’s the new plan? Well, I’ll tell ya!

The new plan is called trusting God’s plan, and it’s a great way to live:

Grateful for his goodness, mindful of His blessings, and filled with His peace for my future.