I love the way I get to use the gifts and experiences and skills God gave me in my work each day.
I love all the little kids in my life including two nieces and six other godchildren along with their siblings, cousins, and friends’ kids who bring me such delight and joy.
I love my quirky little rental home that provides a space close to work to retreat and welcome others.
I love my church and the authentic, treasured community I found there with people who walk with each other in the highs and the lows of life.
I love the college students I interact with everyday. Seriously, they are incredible. They are insightful, caring, passionate, and insanely talented.
I love the friends and family who sustain, support, and sharpen me… and just like to hang out and have fun too.
The last few months I have noticed how content I am in life right now. There are deep blessings growing in and around me I could have never imagined.
I love my life.
And… I don’t.
That job I feel is such a good fit… sometimes it’s completely overwhelming and just too much. Those kids… I don’t get to see them all near as much as I’d like and some days, intermingled with the joy of their presence, is a longing for children and family of my own. My home… its quirks stand in stark contrast to the dream house I walked away from a few years ago in the process of moving to Nebraska and it has some space limitations that limit my ability to host people in the ways I desire. My cherished church… is 35-40 minutes away from my home. This makes it hard to invest and connect in all the ways I’d desire and means that some of my closest community is not actually geographically close. My incredible college students who blow my mind every day with how awesome they are… are also college students. Sometimes I wonder if they’re using a single one of their brain cells when they make decisions. Family and friends… well, they’re human, and relationships are hard, and we hurt each other.
In this place of contentment, there is also deep longing and desire.
Until recently, I wasn’t sure what to do with this seeming paradox. At some points in life I thought that it just meant I must not actually be content. More recently, I felt sure that they could both be true at the same time, but it still didn’t quite make sense and I didn’t have words to explain it.
However, a few weeks ago I was in a situation where a section of Philippians 4 was shared multiple times over the course of an hour. I have no clue how many times I’ve heard this somewhat well-known section of Scripture throughout my life, but on that night it was as if I heard it in a new way.
… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11-13 (emphasis added)
I always knew this section was about contentment, but I had never noticed the reality that Paul never said his contentment came without any longing or need. Rather he said that he was content in want… in need… in hunger. Right smack dab in the middle of longing, contentment was present. Contentment and desire are not opposites; they can exist right alongside each other.
As I prayed and pondered this for a few days, a fuller picture came into view. Those hard things, those things I wish were different, are not automatically signs of discontent. Sure, those things (or even “good” things) could lead my heart to a place to discontent. But the truer reality is that both the “good” and the “bad” list above are all together collectively my life, my story.
A content heart is not one that never longs for things to be better or different. Rather, it looks at all of life–the joys and the sorrows… the hard days and the delightful ones… the pain and the relief–and says, “Somehow there is peace here.”
And like Paul, we too can learn the “secret” of this kind of life:
I can do all this… through Christ. (vs 13)
Left on my own, this heart would choose discontent and bitterness every step of the way. Yet, each day my Teacher shows up on the scene helping me learn, again and again: I have enough and am enough because He is enough.
Jesus, You do not give to us as the world gives. You give peace. You are enough. You are all we need. You satisfy fully. And yet, when we find ourselves with desires and longings and needs in this life You do not shame us. Instead, You invite us to show up with all of it and talk to you about it. And somehow, in that space You show us how to hold it all with deep contentment and peace that doesn’t even seem possible. Keep teaching us today, Amen.
What might it look like to plan for peace this week? Peace in relationships? Peace at work? Peace in your mind or heart or soul? Peace in your home?
Is it something practical like planning ahead for dinner on a busy night to decrease stress or anxiety when that busy moment comes?
Is it crafting in little 5 minute moments (or 1 minute even) where you can just stop and connect with Jesus, notice how you’re feeling, and invite him in to whatever activity is taking place?
Is it choosing words carefully with your family member/friend/teammate in order to add peace instead of anxiety or conflict to a situation?
As I ponder what “planning peace” may look like (and why that brings joy) I’m struck by all the things that are the opposite of peace. There are many antonyms. It could be strife or discord in community. It’s a restlessness in our souls. Distress in our mind. Anxiousness in our emotions. It could even me a messy or loud house that feels in-peaceful.
While in one way that seems overwhelming to think of all the ways we can experience the opposite of peace, it also gives us many areas, big and small where we can start planning for it.
For me this morning, that planning starts as simple as believing peace may be possible this week. To trust that the Prince of Peace is on His throne and on the scene in my life. To hope that peace might settle in a little more into my soul, into relationships, into my work and my play… and that as it does, it might bring with it a little joy.
This blog has been a little neglected lately with so much of my time and attention taken in the last couple of years by a new job and grad school. Now that graduation has passed and I find myself with a little more time here and there, my hope is that I can return here more often.
Last week I had the chance to vacation in a town I called “home” for 9 years. Visiting with friends who have become like family, exploring favorite spaces (and a few new ones), and eating familiar foods was so good for my soul.
It’s also always a little weird going back to a place that once was home, but is no longer. Things change. People change. We change.
My favorite coffee shop that I would frequent on my days off is now closed.
The church where I served has so many new members and new staff.
The parks I frequented look completely different (or were seemingly impossible to enter for my now unfamiliar mind due to changes to parking and roads).
As I wandered along the Niagara River, a spot I visited probably over a hundred times in the not-quite-a-decade I lived there, I was overwhelmed by this concept of how places are just places YET places matter.
I found myself pondering the hundreds of miles I had walked along that path with friends. Conversation after conversation drawing each relationship closer. I thanked God for those friendships, some of which are still close and some with people I never really get a chance to talk to anymore, all of which have changed in some way since geographic location no longer allows us to quick meet up for a River walk.
I thought of my exchange daughter and the way this path was near her school. It runs past an ice cream shop where her best friend worked, where we shared many ice cream cones. I recalled the day, a year and a half after she left that, she came back to America without me knowing and worked with some friends to surprise me when she joined our picnic.
I thought about the thousands of prayers I prayed in the years I lived near this place and would walk here multiple times a week. Joyous moments, heartbreaking moments, hundreds of little seeds of hope planted in situations of my own or people I love. And as the sun began to set, I recalled hundreds of past sunsets and this truth settled in to my heart:
They are just places. They change. People come and go. Yet, the things that happen there, the memories, the slight little shifts in heart and mind (whether for the good or bad) do indeed shift us, shape us, form us.
That’s what THIS little place, this blog has done for me over the years as well. In some seasons I showed up here daily and others only a few times a year. But through time, through the writing and the sharing and the mistakes and the celebrations, this little space of the internet has shifted things in me, shaped me, formed me.
I’m not sure what it means to return to this place after nearly two years of neglect. I’m different. My life rhythms are different. I don’t know how often I’ll write and I fear saying I’ll come back here often and then actually not doing that.
But for what it’s worth today. I’m simply reminding myself that this place matters and I hope to start showing up here more often again to see how it grows me as I have grown.
To memories made and memories yet to be captured.
To processing life and sharing what I learn.
To not having all the answers but journeying through life in the hopes of stumbling into some together.
To reminding myself once again that there is joy and blessing to be found in this life and it grows when we share it!
By now most of you know I love Sabbath and talk about it a lot. I also know that there are times and seasons when it looks different. Sabbath looks different for me as a single woman than my friends who have toddlers running around or have kids in sporting events. Also, there are moments, like the couple of weeks I’m currently living in, where if I were to try to actually get 24 hours away from all work (my job, grad school, housework, outside commitments) I would actually be more stressed out and less rested.
This is where this concept comes into play: if work is necessary, consider if there is a restful way to do the work.
The kids still have to eat and the tasks still need to be done and crises still occur. Just because work is required does not mean we just give up all hope for Sabbath.
For me today, finding a restful way to work meant taking my homework to my favorite coffee shop in Lincoln. My normal Saturday routine involves doing my grad school homework with various house chores scattered throughout the day as my study breaks. I normally can get that all done by dinner and Sabbath until dinner on Sunday. However, last week and this week I have to work on Sundays. I did cut out some tasks or worked hard to get some of the housework done early. A block of 24 hours of rest is just not possible this weekend. (And forcing that feels WAY too legalistic.) I still can be intentional with my time in a way that leads my heart into rest even if my mind and body must still work some of that time.
Sabbath isn’t just a day, it’s also an attitude. It’s a way of life that says “I am not God”, a space to remember who I am and what is real. So, at times, I can trust God to bring that rest even while I work or seek it in the way I work.
I can find joy and delight in Him as I settle into a corner of my favorite coffee shop with a warm chai, a yummy breakfast treat, and sunshine steaming in the window while working on homework.
I can use study breaks to journal or read a favorite book instead of clean.
Maybe you can plan a fun, special, EASY meal in your work of feeding kids.
We can stop by a park between errands or pause work tasks to go for a quick walk.
Perhaps it’s the type of work that feels more restful. Last spring I needed to be at work on a weekend the day after graduation for RAs to turn in supplies and keys. I needed to be in the office but I didn’t have a specific task required besides being present and available when someone walked in. I used that time to redecorate my office, something that felt refreshing for me. Rest in the work.
I try, and hope I always try, to fight for space and time every week to step away in Sabbath. It’s important. It’s Biblical. It guards me against sin. It restores my joy. It strengthens me for the work ahead. I hesitate to even share this because the concept of “rest while you work” can easily feed or even justify our cultural push toward overworking.
But 24 hours for Sabbath is not always possible in this fallen world. It does not look the same in every season.
In those moments, we seek the attitude and mindset of rest and cling to truths like this in Exodus 33:14, where God says to Moses, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Sometimes we get to stop and rest. Other times God goes with us and gives rest along the way.
With all that in mind, what does rest look like for YOU this week?
As 2021 began my spiritual goals and hopes for the year all centered around knowing Jesus more. I wanted it to be a time where I intentionally focused on knowing this friend in new and different ways. This meant I spent a lot of time in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I listened to what he said, I read what he did, I saw how he interacted with others … over and over and over. (I read them each at least 8 times.) While I learned so much here are just a few recaps of what I learned about my friend Jesus or my interactions with him this year.
January – Jesus has authority … in his teaching, over wind and waves, over evil, in all things! Also, Jesus values JOY! He talks about it all the time!
February – I noticed where he spent his time. “To the river”; “the wilderness”; “walking along the shore”; “throughout the region”; “up on a mountainside”; peoples homes; the lake; “walking along”; “walking through the grain fields”; synagogue/temple; “sat beside the lake”, etc.
March – He is, even in His human nature so much more than I have thought Him to be. I know so little about my Jesus.
April – God goes before us/is ahead of us to prepare (Luke 22:10-12, Mark 16:4,7, John 14:1-3). “Glory” is a key focus of Jesus . The word is used 33 times in John’s gospel.
May – Jesus, you have my attention.
June – Obedience = Life. – Even if where God’s leading or what He is doing or asking me to do doesn’t make sense. He. Is. Faithful. He shows up and acts.
July – He loves me! God longs to prove himself faithful to us. (Luke 1:4; 2 Chronicles 16:9, and almost every page of the gospels describing Jesus’ life). He’s doing things to set us up for belief. (John 2:22)
August – His kingdom is one of power while focusing that power on love, freedom, and healing. “If you only knew the gift God has for you…” John 4:10
September – Jesus constantly faced opposition, hatred, and being trapped. Luke 11:54. When I experience these things, I am in ‘good company’. “My best hope is well kept in you…” – Every Moment Holy Prayer pg 200
October – He is enough. Studied the “I Am” statements in John. He longs for us to experience LIFE! “Zoe” used 36 times in John’s gospel. “Lord give us relief from our unbelief.” – Lysa TerKeurst “He fills my life with good things.” Psalm 103:5
November – “He wraps you in goodness, beauty eternal.” Psalm 103:5 “The Lord still rules from Heaven.” Psalm 116:46 – He rules while we wait for things outside our control. He loves “to the very end”! John 13:1b “You are entirely faithful.” ￼Psalm 89:9
December – Jesus was adopted (by Jospeh). Jesus cared about the Kingdom. “Kingdom” is used 52 times in Matthew’s gospel alone. He longs for us to ask him for things and be persistent in prayer.
So there you have it… a quick summary of the things Jesus showed me about himself this year. So here’s my question: What is one thing you know about God/Jesus that you didn’t know when 2021 started or that he reminded you of this year?
At the start of 2021 I marked off 4 days in my calendar, approximately 3 months apart as days to step away, regroup, and reevaluate all aspects of my life. A day to simply rest or play or “go deep” or whatever my soul needs on that day.
The first one was to kick off the year, actually on New Year’s Day, dreaming and listening to what the year ahead may hold. The first days of April took me to a nearby lake where, as I sat down on a picnic table by the water, the words below found their way to paper.
My quarterly retreats will likely look very different but I’m pretty sure this prayer will be a consistent part in any day I desire to set apart. Maybe it’s useful for you as well…
A Prayer for Days Away
Jesus, I commit this day to You. To the shaping of my life, my soul, my body, my plans.
A day to look back and remember to recall Your faithfulness to notice Your presence in each step to bear witness to friends and celebrations.
A day to be present and rest to be still and silent to be loud and move my body to simply be.
A day to look forward and dream to make plans with Your Spirit’s help to pray over what the next few months may hold to trust for every step ahead.
In these moments may I feel the warm summer sun on my face, crunchy fall leaves under my feet, or the comfort of a blanket wrapped around me on a cold snowy day. Whatever marks this season.
May the laughter be loud or the tears fall hard. Whatever marks this season.
May I fast and pray or delight in rich foods or enjoy a simple picnic. Whatever marks this season.
May this be a day of plans to follow and lots of words written or consumed or a day to wander aimlessly where You would lead. Whatever marks this season.
I release any expectations in this moment except this one: to meet You here.
Like Mary at her Rabbi’s feet I choose the one thing needful. (Luke 10:38-42) Like Jacob wrestling until dawn I will not let go unless You bless me. (Genesis 32:22:32) Like Hannah who begged year after year I pray with perseverance expecting days of joy. (1 Samuel 1-2) Like Peter, James, and John, lead me up the mountain to find “only Jesus”. (Mark 9:2-8) Like David I pray, “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.’” (Psalm 27:8)
“And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? Psalm 39:7a
“Where do we go from here?” This concept is not foreign to any of us living through 2020.
As plans change by the hour and uncertainty feels like the only certainty, our hearts are left wondering “what now?”
Yet, when all our hopes and expectations are dashed, Jesus steps in as Hope himself.
Where do we go? Well, if nothing else we’ve figured out where not to go. Verse 6 lays out some of that: “We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it.”
Our hope is not in productivity or money. Nor is it in political leaders or a health care system. If our ultimate hope is in our plans or our people, even then we will often be left disillusioned, distracted, and disappointed.
And so, Lord, where do we go?
Where CAN we put our hope?
Our only hope is You. (Psalm 39:7b, 71:5)
“And so we have this hope as a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus, [our anchor of hope] has already gone in there for us.” Hebrews 6:18b-20a
“And this is the secret: Christ lives in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27
Something I’ve learned over the last few years and even in this month of trying to focus on joy is the importance of intentionality in choosing joy.
I’m also learning that there can be intentionality in choosing to stop things that aren’t bringing joy to my life.
I’m discovering this 31 Day Blog Challenge actually fits in that category.
I was so excited when the month started to center in on this topic and blog about my journey. While the focus of joy has continued strong and so has my desire to blog, the pressure of writing specifically about that topic and doing it every day has not proved to be joyful.
So, I’m abandoning ship. It happened unintentionally a few days ago when I simply forgot but it caused me to pause. So today I consciously decided to not force myself to keep going in this daily rhythm.
I am keeping the goal of writing more and I also have my ears and heart tuned in for concepts of joy. (For example, it’s been crazy to see that there hasn’t been a day since the start of October where the word joy or rejoice didn’t show up in my daily Bible reading. It’s literally been there every single day.)
So yes. Joy and blogging remain goals but I’m choosing to actually LIVE in joy by putting aside an arbitrary expectation that wasn’t helping me live the very thing I was writing about.
This leads to my questions for you today…
1. What are the things that brought you joy this week?
2. What’s something you may need to stop because it is not adding value, meaning, or joy to your life?
When I wake up with a worship song or Scripture already in my mind as my first waking thought, I pay attention. A few days ago, these lyrics were on repeat as I transitioned into my day:
“You write a beautiful story. You write a beautiful story. From glory to glory. I believe. You write a beautiful story. You write a beautiful story. Beginning to ending and in between.” ~ Beautiful Story by Andrew Holt, Mia Fieldes, Robert Marvin
To be honest, I wanted to joyfully believe these words but in the moment it felt more a mantra I needed to repeat over and over to convince myself of. All the same, I was thankful my day was starting with this reminder.
As I pondered this concept more, I considered God’s Word and realized: it’s true. Looking back I can see it clearly that our God does write an insanely beautiful story. The day to day moments often don’t seem so sweet but when you see both the beginning and the end, and the redemption that happens along the way, it becomes clear.
The hard part that we’re living right now is not the end of the story, but it still can be beautiful. Or perhaps how we TELL the story is what really shapes this view.
We can walk through a challenging season of life (like the one we’re all currently living) and have it be all about how hard it was, how tired we were, all the ways people didn’t treat us well or we hurt them, all the ways we messed up, etc.
The narrative I tell can be about how day after day God showed up, how faithful and constant He was when everything was changing, how He provided strength when we had none.
It’s not that the first reality isn’t true, but it doesn’t really capture the beauty of the real story God is writing.
My tendency is to stay focused on the first half. I don’t think I’m the only human who does this. But to do that without also shifting my heart and my words to God’s role and action leaves the story incomplete. If that’s how a movie or book was written we’d label it “boring”. It’s not what people would want to take in.
But Jesus, He writes beautiful stories, stories filled with redemption, with restoration, with faithfulness.
May that be the story I tell this day, this week, with my life.
Which leads me to another recent favorite song called “The Story I’ll Tell” by Alton Eugene, Benji Cowart, Naomi Raine which include these lyrics:
“And I’ll testify of the battles you’ve won How you were my portion when there wasn’t enough I’ll sing a song of the seas that we crossed The waters you parted The waves that I walked
Oh, oh, oh, My God did not fail Oh, oh, oh, it’s the story I’ll tell Oh, oh, oh, I know it is well Oh, oh, oh, is the story I’ll tell”
That is the story I want to be telling through my life, the song I want to come out of my mouth. Just like I described above, this song, especially in it’s verses, doesn’t ignore the hard and painful aspects of life. It names them all, but it doesn’t stop there. It continues declaring truth that we can trust the pain is not the only part of the story. Rather, because of the faithfulness of God, we know that on the other side we’ll have a water parting, wave-walking, victorious story of provision. It may not happen in this life, but we will some day look back on this moment, yes even a moment in 2020, and see God’s hand on it and in it.
The song ends:
“All that is left is highest praises So sing hallelujah to the Rock of Ages”
My prayer is that I’d see and pay attention to God’s hand day by day. May we not have to wait until we look back on this time to be able to tell the beautiful story God’s writing. I want God to get the praise, even today.