Fear, Faith, & Following on the Day After Easter

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Yesterday was Easter – what many consider the most significant day of the year in the Christian faith.  Perhaps you experienced a glorious Easter, filled with beautiful worship, family time, laughter, and traditions.  Or maybe your happiness was subdued this year by grief, loss, or loneliness.  In either situation, we can choose to cling to the joy of Christ’s resurrection, which pervades all circumstances, and find great hope in relationship with a real Savior, who humbled himself to an extent to be able to truly relate to both the mountaintops and valleys of this world.

For our family, this Easter weekend was a beautiful, memorable time, with many awesome reminders of Jesus’ sacrifice and celebrations of His resurrection.  The older I get, the more I try to live in, treasure, and soak up moments like this – knowing from past experience that each day is a gift, with the good times graciously sprinkled across difficult times of pain and suffering.  Having come to faith in Christ as a child and growing up in the church, the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is very familiar, though sacred, to me.  Once again this year, in the days leading up to Easter, I prayed that the Lord would reveal to me a fresh perspective on the Easter story, and He did.

In one of the services we attended, the preacher focused on the element of fear at the scene of the Resurrection, and in another service, the theme was how the resurrection changes everything.  As the women approached Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body, they were surprised to see an angel, who commanded them to not be afraid, and explained that Jesus had risen from the dead and could be found in Galilee (Matthew 28:5-7).  “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly, Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me'” (Matthew 28: 8-10).  This same series of emotions mirrors the Christmas story, when the shepherds encountered the angels in the field where they worked, afraid – then sent to the experience the newborn King firsthand and go tell of the Savior’s birth.

Do you see a pattern?

  1. Experiencing Jesus
  2. Emotions of fear/awe/joy
  3. Obedience – go/tell/do

When we truly experience Jesus, we can’t help but be changed.  It’s a natural overflow of encountering the love and power of the God of the universe.  Fear is also a natural, inevitable part of that experience – that we, as flawed, sinful men/women might even be allowed to enter into the presence of a Holy God, much less be invited to participate in His work, is mind-blowing.  We have two choices in reaction to these feelings of fear:  1. Focus on the fear, and allow it to paralyze us, or 2. Trust God through our fear, as we step forward in obedience.

A few months ago, I found myself awake in the middle of the night, struggling with a bad sickness and pondering a decision with big implications.  I came across a video of Jill Briscoe, a missionary in her eighties, and the Lord used her passionate message to speak straight to my heart and situation.  The part of her story that stuck out to me was her wisdom on fear and faith.  In essence, fear precedes obedience, and obedience precedes courage.  We first obey what the Lord is calling us to do; then, the courage will follow.  The Lord delivers courage as a result of our faith.  This principle is evident throughout the Bible, and in the testimonies of countless believers since.

“Courage isn’t a feeling that
you wait for. Courage is doing when you don’t have courage. Courage is
doing it scared.” – Jill Briscoe

So, what do we do on the day after Easter?

We allow the Truth of the gospel message to penetrate our hearts.  We humble ourselves before the Lord and listen intently to what He is calling us to do.  We feel the fear, and walk forward in faithful obedience to follow Him anyway, often in defiance of our personal comfort zone or conception of logic, knowing His path is better than anything promised by this world.  As Briscoe said it best, “you go where you’re sent, and you stay where you’re put, and you give what you’ve got until you’re done.”  Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

Strong Women…


My Dear Girls,

Last week was International Women’s Day, as I learned from my Instagram feed. I was inspired to share with you some thoughts about actions and attitudes I hope you have as strong women:


1. Realize that femininity – embracing your God-gifted characteristics and roles – doesn’t undermine your strength, but rather adds to it. You were made in the image of our Creator, with unique differences from men that will allow each of us to accomplish unique purposes in this world, for His glory.

2. Live weak, recognizing and relying on your need for a Savior’s strength. You don’t have to fear or hide your shortcomings nor imperfections, knowing that your weaknesses are an opportunity for Jesus’ power to be made perfect in and through you. Rest in the Truth that you are enough and are fully loved, just as you are, even as you are being ever changed to become more like Him.

3. Appreciate and be confident in your bodies, choosing to focus on their capabilities over the flaws. Just the mere fact we were made to birth babies – without drugs if chosen – and sustain their lives is an amazing testament to our physical and emotional strength and endurance! I’d put the strongest men in the world up to childbirth any day! 😉 Beyond that, know that you can run hard and fast, be aggressive on the court and field, dance with beauty and grace, or whatever you put your mind to do. Let the phrase “just a girl” motivate you, rather than slow you down!

4. Prioritize self-care. You are mind, body, and spirit, and to care for yourself well involves not neglecting any of these areas. Believe in the power of exercise to refresh, build, and reveal your strength. Find an exercise/sport you enjoy, and prioritize it as a healthy life habit. (And if you haven’t yet found one you love, keep looking – it’s out there!) Understand a healthy relationship with food is a main way to sustain your strength. Strive to eat real, healthy foods when you’re hungry, but also understand that moderation is ok! Know that stress, and it’s negative effects on your mind and body, are real, and make time to unplug and relax, doing things just for yourself. 

5. Cultivate and appreciate authentic friendships with other strong women, through which you’ll find and give strength, acceptance, affirmation, and community… and sometimes laugh with ’til you cry/pee – depending on your age! 🙂 Your girlfriends will be among your fiercest cheerleaders and prayer warriors for your entire life. Search for friends who are kind, loyal, selfless, and low-maintenance. Steer clear of mean girls, who build themselves up by putting down or excluding others. And most of all, remember to BE a true, encouraging friend yourself.

6. Understand you don’t need a man to complete or affirm your worth, and wait for one who isn’t intimidated by your strength, intelligence, or dreams but rather values those qualities over your appearance. 

7. Don’t look to society, the government, or any other earthly authority to determine nor validate your worth or strength as a woman, but search for the Truth revealed in God’s living and active Word, the Bible. Study and find ultimate affirmation in Jesus’ completely counter-cultural interactions with and treatment of women.

8. “Work hard, play hard, and leave the rest to God.” (Florence Griffith Joyner, Olympic track champion). Dream big, and know that, while you can do everything, you can’t do it all at once. Prioritize your dreams in careful, prayerful consideration of your life seasons and responsibilities, with your family at the forefront. The biggest lie to 21st century American women is that we can do it all, and do it well; don’t buy it.

9. Don’t be intimidated by other strong, successful women, but celebrate their successes with them, resting in the knowledge that we all shine in our own ways and at our own times.

10. Know when to speak up, and when to remain silent. Have meaningful conversations, and walk away from gossip. “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Remember that, even when you may not  feel like it, you ARE strong and beautiful. Because your mama said so. 🙂

Here’s to Strong Women,

Me 

On Elections, Opinions, & Thinking

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My Dear Girls,

Last night was the 2016 presidential election.  There are LOTS of opinions – with varying degrees of tact – floating around online in my social networks.  Here are a few thoughts I wanted to share with you while they are still on my mind, in no particular order:

  1. As an American, you have a great honor and privilege in your RIGHT to vote for your leaders.  Whether or not you like the outcome of any election, never take that privilege for granted, and fulfill every opportunity you have to exercise your right as an informed voter.  Many men and women in our great military served and died to uphold that right for you; don’t waste it.
  2. Be ever grateful to live in a land of MANY freedoms and privileges!  Among the greatest of our freedoms include religion, speech, and bearing arms.  In many countries, women are considered second-class citizens who cannot vote nor attend school.  In other countries, people are stuck in a caste system, with no hopes of moving beyond their lot in life, and/or experiencing extreme, desolate poverty.  In other countries, unstable, cruel governments, war, and fear are a way of life.   Be proud to be an American.  Don’t forget that many of the “problems” we complain about here are first-world problems indeed.
  3. Be inspired to live in a land of opportunity.  Both dominant-party candidates in yesterday’s election held historical implications – one was a woman and the other came from a business, rather than traditional political or military, background.  There were several other candidates in both parties’ primaries from varied ethnic and career backgrounds.  With either outcome, history would be made.  Even for those, like myself, who did not ardently support either candidate, the prospect of historical implications for our democracy is exciting to see unfold.
  4. Don’t let fear be a driving force in any decision you make or response to any outcome you are dealt.  Yes, I understand this is easier said than done.  But, we thankfully serve a God who “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28).  For good reason, the Bible tells us no less than 365 times to fear not.  Rest assured in Jesus’ words to “have peace” and “take heart” in times of trouble, for “[He has] overcome the world!” (John 16:33, my paraphrase).  Christians should rejoice that our ultimate hope isn’t found in anything this world has to offer, including rulers.
  5. Think for yourself.  Man, this is a big one!  If your dad and I, or your teachers, don’t teach you another thing in this life apart from your faith, I hope you learn to respect others and think for yourself.  Don’t just follow the crowd or believe what you are “supposed to” or what’s “in” with your tribe.  Take the initiative to research information from all sides, and use your intelligence and values to prayerfully discern what is good and True.  Don’t take for granted what someone else says to be true; look it up for yourself.  Be discerning; consider the source and any potential biases when reading anything, in print or online (I am continually amazed at how many otherwise intelligent adults seem to believe anything they read).  In politics, my parents taught me not to be a straight-ticket voter, but “for the person” – to think about whom I vote for and why.  My parents, grandparents, and the church I grew up in also encouraged me to read and study the Bible for myself, for which I am eternally grateful.  Surround yourself with people you respect and consider wise, and heed advice from your elders, but at the end of the day, have the courage and confidence to make your own informed decisions – even if it means going against the grain.
  6. You will not agree with everyone; the key is to learn to disagree well.  To disagree, or sometimes to “agree to disagree” is ok, and I daresay GOOD!  I expect you to have some points of political disagreement with your dad and I as you get older – because it will demonstrate your ability to think for yourself.  Your dad and I, while agreeing on the major points, have slight points of disagreement with each other as well.  I want to implore you to disagree WELL.  This often means holding your tongue, listening before and after you speak, and trying to see all sides.  You don’t have to agree with all sides, but it helps greatly to consider where another person is coming from.  Your dad really likes this quote by Mark Twain:  “Whenever you find yourself on the side of majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”  You may need to stay there, or you may not – but at least think about it.  I would encourage you to seek out friendships with people who are both like-minded and differently-minded from you, and learn to share with and learn from them in a tactful, respectful manner.  Who knows – you just might learn something, and so might they.  But you’ll never have the opportunity if you isolate yourself among people who only think exactly like you do.
  7. Social media is not the best platform to voice disagreements or vent opinions.  Ever.  A face-to-face conversation, with love, respect, and tact at the forefront, will always win.  Just trust me on this one.  In teacher workshops on using social media for professional networking, I often liken posting on social media to shouting a statement in a public forum.  How many people would dare to read aloud some of the vehement phrases they so freely type?  Some adults especially struggle with this, and I often wonder what our actions are teaching the next generation.  I also wonder what the stats are on a social media post actually changing someone’s mind – not promising, I would assume.  If you don’t know what to say, the best answer is often nothing – or at least prayerfully consider the implications or potential misinterpretations of anything you consider posting.  And when you do choose to speak, do so thoughtfully and diplomatically.
  8. Be the change; be the good.  If you don’t like something, resist the ever-present temptation to complain about it, but instead, devise a way to become part of the solution.  Research the issues.  Speak out with an informed, diplomatic, strong voice.  Become involved with a non-profit or charitable organization, or start your own!  Find ways to serve, to lead, to inspire others to hope and change.  Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.
  9. Remember who you are.  As Christians, you are His; a representative of Christ; the “light of the world;” “a city on a hill” (Matthew 5:14).  Don’t take that charge lightly.  Others are looking to us.  Show love, grace, kindness, and compassion to a greater extent than is expected or deserved.  Be very careful how you treat others, and how you use your words.  Read Proverbs and James for more on the power of the tongue. You are also part of a family line of hard-working people who strive to treat others with love, kindness, respect, and tact, through both our words and actions.  Admire and continue that legacy.
  10. Learn about history, and develop a global mindset.  Spend time learning about the history of our great country, as well as your personal family history.  Know who you are, and be proud of your heritage.  In addition, take every opportunity to travel – to see the world and interact with others from different cultures.  Travel has abilities to open your mind beyond anything you could ever learn in a classroom.  It’s also good to realize that you’re not as important as you may think; there is a big, wide world beyond the U.S.A. and our problems – both real and imagined.  Seek ways to see the world and to change your world – from your own family/home to your community to abroad – one small step at a time.

I guess that pretty much sums it up.  I know you’ll both make me so proud, as you already do.

Love,

Mama

When You are Tired…

My Dear Girls,

One day, you may be a wife and mom to young kids – or not.  And you will likely have a job outside and/or inside your home, with inevitable busy seasons.  Either way, you will definitely, 100%, beyond a shadow a doubt, have times when you are tired – as in, too tired to think, exhausted, or as we say in the country, “worn slap out” kind of tired.  When you come to that point, here’s some earth-shattering advice on what to do next…

STOP.  REST.

But… but it’s not that simple. Yes, yes it actually is.  Unless you want to crash and burn a few days/months/years later.  There are not many excuses that are more important than your health and overall well-being, which is really what you’re sacrificing when you choose to skimp on rest.  We must care for ourselves first, if we are going to be able to care for those who we love so dearly and who are depending on us!  Preaching to myself here, over and over again…

Most women today are stretched way too thin – partly by our many roles in serving others and partly by our own decisions and commitments (that too often aren’t as necessary as we think).  The bottom line is that you are not a robot; you were designed by your Creator to rest – on a daily and weekly basis.  The Lord gives us rest as a gift.  He even modeled it for us in the creation of the world.  But we have to take it, to prioritize it, because no one else is going to do it for you!  On the contrary, most people will take as much of you as you are willing to give.  The Lord revealed the importance of rest and its power on my physical, spiritual, and emotional health a couple of years ago after I went through some health issues that led me to examine my lifestyle and habits and make some hard, but necessary changes.  They weren’t easy lessons to learn, but I’m so grateful I did.  I would encourage you to study what the Bible says about rest.  God wants us to rest in Him, recognizing that He is God and we are not, as we let go of the control we often cling so tightly to.

So, what does this look like on a practical level?  Well, for starters, sleep is a basic human need but often viewed as a privilege here in America, where people pride themselves on productivity in exchange for rest.  I recently read an article that the number one cause of aging is lack of sleep – hence, the phrase “beauty sleep.”  Did you know our brains and bodies actually take time to repair and regenerate while we sleep?  Beyond sleep, try to carve out a few restful times into your day.  Try simple things like waking up early to have a quiet time with the Lord, not working at your desk through lunch, sitting down to eat meals, taking work breaks, limiting your time on social media (or whatever in the world we’ll have in the future), having parts of your day that are “unplugged,” or just making yourself sit still for a few minutes here and there without DOING anything (Why, oh why, is this so much harder for women than for men?!).  Also, taking at least part of one of your weekend days for a sustained Sabbath rest is so important, and although I neglect it more often I’d like to admit, I have resolved to do better!

Most importantly, learning how to say no – often to the good, in exchange for the best (probably a topic for another letter) – precedes rest.  I have had to learn to reevaluate and change some habits that had set the tune of my life to frantic rush, which really is no way to live.  And although I still struggle from this from time to time, it doesn’t take me as long now to tune in and get back on track.  Don’t wait as long as I did to learn the power of rest and to freely accept what’s already been so graciously given to you.  You are not God, you are not a robot, and you ultimately are not in control, so give yourself permission to surrender to and be restored through the wonderful gifts of His freely given rest – both physically and spiritually!

Resting in Him,

Your Monday-Tired Mama

The One Thing

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Dear Kate & Annabeth,

I’m getting ready to leave tomorrow to go on our annual church women’s retreat, and I remembered something I wrote after last year’s retreat that I wanted to share with you:

I spent the past weekend at our church’s women’s retreat with some precious Christian sisters at a gorgeous location with two of my favorite things, water and woods.  While there, I heard one of the simplest and most powerful Truths through an amazing Bible Study delivered by our women’s ministry leader, Tollie Meggs.  And she brings the Word – in an awesome, anointed way.  Just, wow!  How blessed we are by the gift of her teaching.

So often, we tend to complicate motherhood.  And you know what else we tend to complicate?  Simply being – our entire lives. We were made for one purpose – to worship.   Everyone who is alive is worshiping something or someone.  Specifically, we were created to worship God – our Creator, Provider, Sustainer – and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  To do anything else is to waste our lives.  To attempt to put anything else – work, goals, dreams – before worship is to totally miss the picture.  Worship must be the origin of and must be pervasive within all that we are and all that the do.  I can tell you what work, including spiritual service, will do to a believer who got worship out of order in the equation – It leads to exhaustion and burnout.  I know this firsthand myself from past experience and know far too many other ladies who also know what it feels like to work hard for the Lord without having worship in its proper place… and it’s not a pretty picture.  To learn and live out true and acceptable worship will first and foremost please the Lord, and it will also spill over and impact every single area of our lives.  I am convinced that a person never be all she can be without worship at the center of her life.  But we don’t do it for ourselves; we do it because God is worthy.

It’s life-changing stuff, if we will simply submit to the Lord’s leading, obey His commands, and make time to truly worship Him.  And, despite our modern vocabulary, worship is not synonymous with music or meditation – nor does it require anyone else to lead us into it.  There are no bells and whistles, no bright lights or fantastical out-of-body experiences – just simply surrendering yourself to spend time sitting at the Lord’s feet, praising Him for who He is and all He has done, as His Spirit meets you there.  Because my words are pitifully inadequate in describing the depth and breadth of the command to worship and its accompanying promises, here are a few of many verses on worship.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10: 38-42

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. – John 4:23 (NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  – Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  – Matthew 23:23-26 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  – Hebrews 12:28-19 (NIV)

My prayer for myself and your Dad, for both of you, and for anyone who reads this is that we will be filled by God with a renewed desire – a consuming hunger and thirst – for His Word and His commands, to seek His face and truly worship him with all we have, above all else for all of our days.  To get that one thing right will be to have succeeded in all our roles in this life, as well as eternity.

All My Love,

Mama

When You Don’t Know What To Do

My Dear Girls,

This may be one of the shortest letters I write you, but not among the least important. There will be many times in life when you feel as though you’ve come to the end of yourself, exhausted all the options – you truly don’t know the next step to take. When you find yourself in that place, go to this story from the Bible:  2 Chronicles 20.  I won’t go into the details here, because I want you to take time to read it yourself. Remember that God’s Word is living and active for believers, who have the Spirit of God living within us. God  often speaks personally to us through Scripture, offering wisdom and guidance directly to our current situation.

I was recently led to this passage during a time of worry over a difficult situation – and reminded of it again today – and it brought me such great peace both times. Here are my two favorite parts:

“… For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
‭‭- 2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:12‬

“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” – 2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:15, 17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I won’t reveal the ending, but it’s pretty awesome! Go check it out for yourselves. And when you find yourself feeling lost or hopeless, take a lesson from Jehosaphat:  Turn back to God, seek His wisdom in prayer, and trust Him to take the reveal the next step, all the while praising Him. After all, the battle isn’t ours to begin with. All we need to do is stand firm, fix our eyes firmly upon Him, and rest in His loving faithfulness.

In Hope,

Mama

Three Magic Letters to Reset Your Attitude

Dear Kate & Annabeth,

One day, when you grow up, you will have many jobs and responsibilities that, while you will ultimately be thankful for, you may find yourself struggling with at times.  It’s easy to lose motivation and fall into a complaining, versus a grateful, attitude pattern.  A few people smarter than me have reminded me at different times in my life of a magical three-letter word that holds the power to reset your attitude from negative to positive – get.

I have to make and clean up after what sometimes seems like endless meals and snacks each day, but I get the pleasure of feeding my growing family healthy food out of an abundant pantry and fridge, often enjoying quality times around the table, while many mothers in the world shed tears over starving children.

I have to do some work during a Fall Break family vacation, but I get the opportunity to have a fulfilling job and to shape future teachers.

I have to pick up the countless socks, toys, and scraps of paper that my family leaves all over the house, but I get to have an active, loving family and opportunities to serve someone else in love.

I have to drive my mom taxi to and from school, preschool, dance, play practice, church, and what feels like a thousand other places each week, but I get to spend quality time talking and hanging out with you guys and watching you grow in your talents, friendships, and work ethic.

I’m preaching to myself here, too.  Despite my best efforts, my attitude can be pretty crummy sometimes.  And it becomes a spiral – the more we focus on what’s wrong, the more wrong we see.  But I get another change to reset my perspective and remind myself of my blessings and opportunities every day, every hour, every minute – and so do you.  So, when the “have to’s” all seem overbearing, stop and remind yourself of the power of “get.”

All My Love,

Mama

To Be Significant…

Today was my Gran’s, your great-grandmother’s, birthday, and her fifth birthday spent in Heaven.  She would have been 96!  She was the most wonderful person – a true Christian and Southern lady in every way – and countless people are better for knowing her, myself included.  Kate, she had so much fun with you as a baby and toddler, and Annabeth Margaret, her namesake, she would have absolutely loved you!  Gran didn’t leave behind a list of impressive worldly accomplishments, but she touched many, many lives for God’s glory by authentically caring for people and truly living out her faith.  Her life is a great reminder of where our true significance really lies.

I wrote a tribute that was read at her funeral, which concluded with this quote:

Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love. – Mother Teresa

I came across another quote earlier today and thought it was so simple and true:

To be significant, all you have to do is make a difference with others wherever you are, with whatever you have, day by day. – John Maxwell

It reminded me of the Vacation Bible School pledge I learned as a child:

I will do the best I can, with what I have, where I am, in Jesus’ name today.

Or, in simplest terms, God’s basic command to us in His Word can be summed up as follows:

Love God.  Love people.

So, don’t over complicate success or significance by adhering to the world’s standards.  Significance is found in a life lived with true meaning and purpose, which is revealed only in an abiding relationship with the Giver of Life.  Be surrendered to Jesus, be intentional, work hard, and you will undoubtedly achieve significance both in this world and eternally.  I pray often that each of your lives would be used for significant purposes, both big and small, to His glory.

All My Love,

Mama

What to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed

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Dear Kate and Annabeth,

As women, it’s not a matter of if you will feel overwhelmed, but when.  Men have the luxury of putting their stress aside in neat little compartments, but not us!  Thoughts are constantly swirling inside our heads like a tornado, and while this can be a blessing for multitasking purposes, it can also cause us to feel a little crazy during stressful seasons.  As a working mom, I know the feelings of overwhelm all too well… But as I grow in my relationship with the Lord, I have also gained some strategies that help me to shorten the time I stay in that place.  So, without further ado, straight from the depths of midterm week grading, here are my tried-and-true best tips for what to do when you feel overwhelmed, in no specific order:

  1. Pause and breathe.  Remind yourself of who you are, who God is, and who you are in Him. “Be still, and know that I am God.”- Psalm 46:10
  2. Acknowledge how you feel, and then state the truth of the situation.  Often, our feelings lie to us, but Truth is unchanging.  (This is where Scripture memory comes in really handy – Pick a few anchor verses to cling to in stressful times.  Write them on index cards, until you memorize them.)
  3. Pray.  Give your cares to God, and remind yourself He is in control.  “Cast your cares on Him, because He cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7; “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7
  4. Make a list.  Do the first thing.  And then the next, and the next.  If the list seems too long, identify the top 3 most important “must do” items.  Count it a success if you finish those things!
  5. Set a timer, work until it goes off, and then take a short break.  I like the Pomodoro method – work for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break, with a longer break every few “poms.”
  6. Be thankful.  List your praises on paper or out loud.  Rejoicing is a theme in Scripture.  It’s very difficult for gratitude and anxiety to inhabit the same heart.
  7. Ask for help.  Call a trusted friend… or better yet, your mom! 🙂
  8. Put it into perspective.  It could always be worse – always.  Ask yourself, “Will this matter in five years?”  I can’t remember where I heard it, but a great piece of advice when you feel very stressed is to remind yourself that it isn’t brain surgery (unless, of course, you are a brain surgeon – then, perhaps it is pretty important!).  Other people’s demands may not get met on their desired timetable, but at the end of the day, many things we think are direly important are truly not, in the grand scheme of life.
  9. Put on your running shoes (or your dancing shoes) and some good music, and move!  Outside in nature, if possible.  Exercise is the best natural therapy – and it’s free!  Hands down, running is my number one way to clear my mind and erase the stresses of the day.
  10. Take a timeout to care for yourself.  Make a cup of tea.  Call a friend to chat.  Go window shopping.  Play with a kid or pet.  Watch a funny video.  Paint your nails.  Paint with watercolors.  Doodle.  Read a few pages in a good book.  Laugh!

While it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time, if feelings of overwhelm are happening often, take a step back and ask yourself why.  Maybe you need to take a good hard look at some of your life habits that need to be changed.  I have been there, for sure, and while it’s not always easy to be honest with yourself, getting stress under control sooner rather than later is necessary for your health, and for the good of those around you.  Trust me!

Finally, remember the power of your attitude.  Positive thinking is a choice, and a joyful, peaceful attitude in any circumstance is a fruit of the Spirit.  Stay close to Jesus, keep your head up, and you can make it through any valley!  Remember that you come from a long line of strong women, and I believe in you!

To Overcoming and Thriving,

Mama

 

On Dreams, Goals, & Making Time

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Dear Kate & Annabeth,

One day, you will outgrow the magical days of twirling in tutus and spending countless hours in pretend play, drawing, swinging, adventuring, and dreaming.  And in your adult realization of “what you want to be when you grow up,” you will realize, and maybe even yearn for, the true magic of unlimited time and creativity that childhood so freely offers.  You may find yourselves working outside or inside your home, or both, on jobs that, while ultimately fulfilling, some days feel overwhelming and exhausting.  You may at times feel like you’ve even lost a part of yourself, but know that she is there, deep inside, that creative little girl who loved to dance and draw.  Don’t ever lose sight of your dreams, of the creative spark and special gifts that the Lord has given you, to bless the world for His glory.  Ultimately, the world needs your unique contributions!

There will be seasons where you put your dreams and goals on the back burner, and rightfully so, for noble reasons such as serving your family or others, completing a degree, getting established in a new job, or scaling back to care for yourself during a health crisis.  Simplicity is good, and “doing it all” is a slippery slope that leads to exhaustion and burnout; I know, because I’ve been there, but that’s another lesson for another day.  Efficiency and productivity – the seeming buzzwords of our society – are good and well, but you aren’t a robot, and it’s ok to have dreams and goals outside of your “main jobs” tucked away in your back pocket for a passing season.  Just don’t keep them there forever.

If you wait for the “right time” or to have “enough time” to chase after your dreams, then you’ll be waiting forever.  I’ve learned that we must make time for the things that are important to us, and most things worth having are worth sacrificing for.  A good example in my own life is this writing challenge – and some academic writing projects I’m trying to finish.  There are a million reasons why I don’t “have time” to write – a crazy busy season in my job, taking care of you guys, church activities, some other family issues, keeping our house from becoming a disaster zone… and the list goes on.  But the Lord has put a desire in my heart to write, so I’m going to set a timer and give it my best shot for the next 28 days.  It’s not going to be perfect and carefully edited for hours, like my typical writing pattern, but it’s going to be done.  I’m hoping at the end of that time, I will have passed the 21-day mark needed to establish a new habit in daily writing.

Writing is one dream I have, and there are many others!  I want so badly to model for you how to give my all to being a mom and wife, while also working hard to develop and use my own God-given strengths and desires for His purposes.  You will probably have totally different dreams, and that is great!  You are both different people, from each other, and from me.  Remember that dreams lead to intentions, intentions lead to goals, goals lead to actions, and consecutive actions form habits.  Whatever your dreams are, write them down.  Putting them in ink somehow makes them real.  Then, break them into goals, and finally, carve out time.  I promise that one day, when you look back on your life, you won’t regret going for it – even if you fail – as much as you’ll regret wishing that you would have.

To Dreaming and Doing,

Mama