Leaving It All Behind

Today’s Coffee of Choice: “Jamaican Me Crazy” freshly ground beans from Village Street Cafe

Today’s Scripture: It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27

Have you ever had to leave something or someone you loved behind? Whether it was for a brief time or an indefinite period, the process of leaving is not easy.

Glendale2015Recently, cancer once again forced me to experience separation from individuals I cared about. In the recent months, I’ve lost two more friends to the disease. The shock I faced in 2010, when cancer worked its way through my family while also facing the sudden deaths of several friends, was revisited. (Click here to read my thoughts surrounding funeral four of six during that time.) One of the recent individuals I lost served as a mentor to me as a young Christian and is still one of the main examples of faith that propels me forward in leadership roles I carry in my current season. In tandem with the loss of my friends was tragic news of the deaths of two young children of a dear couple in ministry in North Carolina. Learning of it made me hit my knees so hard on their behalf I think the carpet prints are still there. Then, there is the beautiful friend who succumbed to the choices she made while living ALL the aspects of a model’s lifestyle in Europe…. The devastation of it all can be so overwhelming sometimes.

Grief is tricky. Unless you have suffered a great loss, you cannot understand the mixed emotions or sudden tears that can often interrupt a day. Grief is also not limited to the loss of a loved one. It can happen with the loss of a pet, a marriage, or even a change in where you live. I can’t help but think that the Israelite nation faced grief as they stepped away from everything they had ever known, despite the pain they endured as slaves while living in Egypt, and pushed forward toward the land they were promised.

So, how do we deal with grief? I once had a conversation with the author of The Mended Heart, Suzie Eller. She shared her thoughts on the grief that often occurs within abuse survivors, and a cancer survivor who was seated at a table with us shared her perspective as well. Until that point, I had never considered grief as a response to abuse or living through a terminal disease, but it made sense to me as we all talked. The conversation was one of those I will never forget where time stopped and sisters in Christ were encouraged by each other in a way only God can make happen. One of the main conclusions we all came to is that you just have to let grief work its course in your life, not fight the emotions, and surround yourself with safe people while doing so. We decided that:

Truth Breeds FreedomAnother way I’ve discovered to help process grief is to cling to the wisdom found in Scripture. This helps negate the lies and negativity often found in the world around us. In Hebrews 11:27, we see five keys to follow when facing any major challenge… including the unpredictability of grief:

It was by faith (#1- HAVE FAITH!) that Moses left the land of Egypt (#2- Choose to leave the “Egypts” in your life behind you.), not fearing the king’s anger (#3- Don’t fear.). He kept right on going (#4- Don’t EVER give up.) because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible (#5- Keep your eyes fixed on Jehovah Jireh, your provider.).

May God bless you if you’re in the throes of grief during this season of your life. May you find His great peace in the midst. Please comment below if you would like me to be praying for you.

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The Wisdom of Honest Relationships

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Freshly Ground Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend

Today’s Scripture: One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:24

A new Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through just opened a few minutes from my house. I happen to love their coffee, so it’s a great place to pick up goodies for those who drop by to visit me. (The down side of that is I often have leftover donuts to ward off temptation from while attempting to maintain a strict diet and workout schedule.) I’ll be the first to admit I have a thing for their coffee too, but my overall love of coffee happens to revolve around the magical moments of conversation and silence surrounding a cup shared with a good friend. I value relationships, and I appreciate honest, committed individuals who take the time to share their thoughts and heart with me.

We live in a world where honest relationships and friendships are an endangered species. Some of us are blessed to have close friends we can discuss anything with. Others, though perhaps surrounded by many people, feel the darkness of loneliness on a regular basis. BostonIn times when we are faced with acts of evil we might not understand, such as the bombing in Boston yesterday, honest relationships are vital. We need each other as we walk through life. We need to be faithful and committed friends to those who face trials. We cannot run away from each other when circumstances are hard. As so many close to the scene at the Boston Marathon yesterday demonstrated, we must run toward each other when we need help.

The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more wary I’ve become of individuals who want to monopolize others’ time and talents for their own gain. Unfortunately, I know there will be some who will try to take advantage of the tragic stream of violent acts which seem to be on the upswing in the States. I’d like to attempt to help you as you navigate the waters of new relationships during this volatile time. Here are three warning signs to look for when determining who you should invest your time, talents, and treasures in:

1. Does the individual monopolize the conversation when you are with them? Do they perk up at your comments if money or someone in a position of major influence you happen to know are mentioned?
If this is the case, it’s probably not a good idea to invest more time in the relationship. The individual in question is not obviously not interested in who you are as a person, and they will probably write you off once they have exhausted your resources.

2. Does the person or organization ignore phone calls, emails, and conversation from you that does not benefit their cause?
Though this is not always a warning sign (leaders and those who work for organizations are often busy people), if there is a lack of communication from an individual except when they want something from you over a period of six months to a year, I would advise reconsidering whether this is a cause you want to help. Either their motives are selfish or they have a problem with overcommitment and time management. Both are red flags that there might be some bigger issues down the road.

3. If you’re in a crowded room with the individual and you make eye contact or say “hi” while they’re in earshot, do they ignore you and not make an effort to follow-up afterward?
This is a sign that: 1. They are a very rude individual; 2. There is an underlying problem in their relationship with you they don’t want to address. Both of these issues lend themselves to reconsidering if this is someone who you want to invest time in. If the individual is part of a larger organization where you are treated with respect otherwise, I would say it’s more of a personal problem. If this is the case, you should address the issue one-on-one with them. If this doesn’t work, find someone who will help you mediate a conversation with them in an effective manner.

For the record, I haven’t been perfect in the way I’ve treated people over the years. I also haven’t been perfect in pinpointing healthy relationships and friendships. I’m trying to get better, and I hope you will make honest, open relationships a priority with me in a time when we all so desperately need each other. In my case, there are two things which have helped me the most over the years: 1. My close friendship with Christ; 2. A healthy prayer life. I recommend both to you while you navigate the waters of life.

Please share your perspective on this topic. Your thoughts are valuable.

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The Pursuit of Wisdom

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: The house special from my favorite place to grab a cup of coffee: Everyday Gourmet

Today’s Scripture: Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. – Proverbs 1:7

I’ve taken a bit of a media break the past couple of weeks. My husband and I have been trying to focus on important priorities, so my time online has been much less than normal. I love communicating with people and encouraging them, and I’m enjoying again being intentional about social media and blogging this week.

In the midst of our refocusing, my family and I have been honing in on living from a place of wisdom instead of a place of want. We are doing this because we continue to have amazing opportunities and need to make sure we keep managing our lives at a place where we thrive. Our personal pursuit ties to where I’ll be going with my blog posts in the next couple of months. I’ve been focusing on leadership lately. I’d now like to now shift my attention a bit to the attribute of wisdom, which is the number one quality I see as necessary and needed as a leader. I have met so many people gifted in leadership in the past few years who fail themselves and those they lead because of a lack of wisdom. Low levels of wisdom can often lead to poor discernment in how to best run an operation, frustration, and unfulfilled potential. Admittedly, I don’t have it all figured out myself, but I would like to share what I can with you as I dig deeper in my own pursuit of wisdom. I want to start off by defining wisdom. I’ll use several quotes from the material I’m pouring through at the moment to do so. You can keep up with what I’m reading on Goodreads.

Wisdom Defined

1. Wisdom is rare. One of the main reasons is because humanity is more prone to suspicion than trust. I believe that trust in God, personal abilities, and those you lead is essential to moving forward in leadership.

“And oft though wisdom wake, suspicion sleeps
At wisdom’s gate, and to simplicity
Resigns her charge….”
Paradise Lost, Book III

2. According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, wisdom is the “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships.” I often see this as the weakest attribute of those attempting to lead well. The inability to correctly evaluate personal internal motives and the internal motives of others will lead to a poor track record and distrust within any discerning audience. In her book Unglued, New York Times bestselling author and co-leader of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa TerKeurst makes the following point: “Oh, how corrupted motives can really make me come unglued. By motives, I mean my desires– the feelings that drive me to act, react, and live the way I live. Mostly I’m a good person with good motives, but not always. Not when I just want life to be a little more about me or about making sure I look good. That’s when my motives become corrupted.”

3. Wisdom means having good judgment based in the obvious truth of a situation.

“Fear hath many eyes; and I can at present behold things that are hid within the bowels of the earth; much more those that appear in the firmament above: a man of sound judgment, like me, can easily foretell, that it will soon be day.”
– Sancho in Don Quixote during one of his moments of wisdom (though he also has moments of foolishness)

4. Wisdom means speaking truth and not relying on hearsay. To speak truth you must know truth.

“If we want truth to guard our hearts and minds, we have to immerse ourselves in truth. We do that by opening God’s Word and letting God’s Word open us.”
– Lysa TerKeurst in Unglued

5. Wisdom includes the accumulation of knowledge. It’s important to be informed as a leader. As we read in Proverbs 1:5 in the Bible: “A wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance….”

I’d love to hear from you if you have anything else to add regarding the definition of wisdom, especially quotes! Please leave a comment.

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Keys to Joy, Vol. 5: Friending God

What a weekend I had! In fact, it’s taken me a few days to process everything I saw, heard, and learned at the Opryland Resort in Nashville. It was just that good. We MOPS moms sure know how to encourage each other. I must confess that five years back I would have never gotten excited about an organized playgroup, but Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS for short) is much more than that. It’s a safe place for friendships to flourish. And, when you get all of us together without our kids, it’s just a great, big hoo-ha.

It’s a Facebook world we live in. Not all of us have chosen to enter it, but awhile ago a former pastor convinced me. I haven’t looked back. It’s been nothing but a blessing as high school and college friends have connected with me. As a busy mom, it also gives me a chance to stay connected with others I’ve met as I’ve traveled the States and the world. We plan play dates (if close to each other), share ridiculous pictures, and keep up with common interests. It helps me stay plugged in with the friendships that have formed as a result of our local MOPS group, and it enables me to encourage those I meet in other parts of the country while attending national conventions such as the one in Nashville.

Relationships can be one of the most powerful sources of joy in our lives. A personal relationship with God where we have “friended” him if you will can be the most joyful of all. Those of us who have walked with God through seasons of our lives can attest to this. He is always there. He will never “unfriend” us. Likewise, those who walk closely with God can make some of the best relationships you will ever have. Granted, not everyone out there is a peach, but there is uninhibited joy in the midst of relationships focused on the common ground of Christ. When you’re a friend of God, all of a sudden you have access to an incredible network of love, laughter, and grace.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the one where Jesus says, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15b from the New International Version). He calls us his friends and shares everything he knows with us, including the unbridled joy that is a mystery to most onlookers. He will never leave us or forsake us, and he always has our best interests in mind. The best way to live a life full of joy is, simply put, to become a friend of God.

For more information on “friending” God see http://wowgod.org/friendofgod20070321.htm.

For more information on MOPS go to http://www.mops.org.

Keys to Lasting Joy, Vol. 4: Sing Praise!

I must confess that today I cracked a joke with a friend of mine that wasn’t really funny. The punch line? “I write fiction because real life is just too dramatic for me.” We both laughed like the crazy people we were in that moment. Believe it or not, that’s not the main reason why I’ve chosen to pursue writing, but it was hilarious to think about. As I considered the conversation later, I realized there might be some truth to my comment. To protect the innocent and listen to the voice of wisdom (it doesn’t look like Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder by the way) which constantly nags me, I will refrain from spilling my guts publicly at this point about any craziness I’ve seen. I do, however, want to assure you I’ve had to fight hard to learn the keys to joy I’ve been discussing in my recent posts. In fact, even as I write them, I’m relearning a thing or two. My days aren’t perfect, and I don’t go around with a goofy smile on my face all the time, but I do have hope. I do have joy.

Tonight I listened to a heartbreaking phone conversation in which I experienced three things:

  1. A jaw drop in disbelief. (You would think I would have learned by now how often God puts the stories of those in our path who are strikingly similar to our own, but my jaw still dropped.)
  2. Tears. (Tears of anger and tears of pain. The story hit close to home and was heartbreaking to me as a result.)
  3. A shout of praise. (This was after pushing through the emotions, praying through parts of the Bible that related to my situation and those on the phone, and re-realizing what God was up to in my life and in the lives of others.)

Yesterday was a hard day for me. I had to will myself to a place of praise. In fact, it took a painfully conscious effort to spout off the first God song I could think of while I was doing dishes. That’s saying something for a girl who’s been singing in church since I can remember. I really hate dishes. After stumbling through a couple of verses, I realized (again) just what God was up to in my life during this season and found that place of deep peace that only He can offer.

Both of the above examples briefly describe times when I was overwhelmed with emotion that had the potential to lend itself to incredible hopelessness. (Okay, so I could have curbed yesterday’s battle by not letting the dishes go so long.) In both cases, praise was what was used to bring peace. Whether in a spontaneous manner or in a deliberate act of the will, giving God glory despite the feelings and circumstances being faced defeats that which discourages us. Trust me. Try it. It might be hard sometimes, but it’s SO worth it. May you be blessed and refreshed today and always.

Keys to Lasting Joy, Vol. 3: Turn Around and Face the Music

I got hooked on road trips as a kid. There was something soothing to me about cruising over those bumpy Pennsylvania highways (even though I grew up in New Hampshire) and snuggling down in the back seat of my parents’ Buick. I must confess my love for road trips blossomed into an unhealthy way of dealing with trials once I got my license. When trouble hit, I would hit the road. As most of you know, you can’t run very far or very long from the things that haunt you in life. Now that I’m finally getting to my blog again, that brings me to the next lesson I’ve learned about keys to lasting joy:

You’ve got to turn around and face those things in your life you desperately want to flee from. When you push through the tough times, unending joy waits on the other side.

There’s a story about a bright young composer who, to his parents’ utter amazement, started drawing and asking about cellos when he was a toddler. Neither of the parents had a professional musical background, and they weren’t sure what to do with their son’s fascination. Not quite knowing where it would lead, they took their son to a music store where they purchased him a cello to fit his size. Amazingly, he began to play it, learned to write music, and later taught himself how to play the piano. In time, Jay Greenberg offered up award winning compositions including one that won first place in a Julliard contest for a piece written as a tribute to the events of the September 11th attack on the U.S. He was also sought after to write a one movement concerto for Joshua Bell, one of the premier violinists of our day… at the age of 16. When he was a child, his parents had a problem to solve. They had a two-year-old with a vast interest in music. They faced it. They provided opportunities for him to grow, despite what it meant financially. And his music brought lasting joy and entertainment for many people afterward.

Similarly, there are times in our life when we simply need to face the obvious opportunities that are put before us. I had a friend tell me recently that most of the time problems get much harder before they get solved. She’s a former math teacher. It figures. It’s true, however, that the other side of a tough time brings confidence, wisdom, and joy. So, for myself and whoever else may be reading this, go out there and face the music! I’m not sure if thousands of people will get to hear the end result of whatever comes of it… but you never know.

Keys to Lasting Joy, Vol. 2: The Choice is Yours

It’s been a crazy week. So crazy, in fact, that my Monday post happens on a Tuesday. As a recovering perfectionist, I think I’m okay with the slight mishap. I must confess, however, that I have NO idea what next week will hold. In an effort to maintain at least a little bit of continuity, I will make a conscious choice to present the next of my keys to lasting joy.

What is it, you ask?

I’ve already demonstrated the concept. I am of the opinion that lasting joy is, in reality, a choice. Just as I’m choosing to sit down and type this little exposé despite an overwhelming urge to go upstairs and catch up on my sleep, joy can be decided upon no matter what the circumstance. No matter what storm brews, joy can flourish in the midst. It’s a matter of will, and, when the Lord is in control of the will, joy can happen no matter how much heartache has occurred.

Isaiah 12: 2-3 states: Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 

God saves. With Him in control, there can be no fear. He is strength. He is the music of life. He makes life enjoyable. Therefore, I can draw from Him as my source of joy. I can rest in the joy He provides.

No matter what you face today, it is my prayer that you realize the saving joy God extends to us all. May you be joyful always!