God-Sighting Saturday

Big God, Small Me {God Sighting Saturday}

Wednesday was a weird day. It was also kind of hard in all different ways… physically, emotionally, professionally, relationally. By the time we got to 5:00, I was D.O.N.E. But as I kind of mentioned last Saturday, it seems like these are the moments God steps in and shows up in the biggest of ways. Wednesday evening was no exception.

God had prearranged that a friend and colleague of some of us would be in town that night. And since he had never seen Niagara Falls, it made the itinerary. After a quick tour of the church three of us made our way to the Falls. Along the way we each shared about life and ministry and sports and family and whatever came to mind. That alone was fun and refreshing, a reminder of the fact that there is so much good (so much God) in life right now, smack-dab in the middle of the hard.

And then we got to the Falls… right around the time the sun was going down. Being near water and watching sunsets are two of my very favorite things in the whole world, so Niagara Falls at sunset brought some joy on a whole new level. The rain had cleared from earlier in the day, the temperature was perfect, the park was surprisingly not busy at all with other tourists. It was so peaceful.

As I think about it, it feels a little weird to call it peaceful when there are over 75,000 gallons of water going over the American and Bridal veil falls plus over 680,000 gallons over the Horseshoe Falls… every second!

That is a lot of water. That is a lot of power.

We walked along the rapids a bit leading up to the Falls and chatted about “the point of no return”. There comes a point when even on a fast boat, the power of the river is just too much.

Sometimes life feels a bit like that, but on this Wednesday what came to mind was the powerful love of God. I pictured God’s love like that water just pouring over the edge of those rocks. It just doesn’t stop, it keeps coming and coming and coming and no matter how hard I might try or what Satan may do to make me think God doesn’t love me, He’s just pouring it into my life at a rate I can’t even comprehend, drenching me in it.

Standing before this gorgeous wonder, sunsetting, with some awesome company, I was reminded how big our God, and how small I am. Sometimes feeling small is a bad thing, but in this context it was what brought peace. He is in control. He is enough. He’s the Creator of the universe AND He knows, loves, and delights in me. He’s big enough to have created this huge awesome world, and yet still wants to walk with me each day. He’s powerful, yet humble. Just and kind. Righteous and gracious.

Big God, Small Me. Yep, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Bekah's Heart, Mental Health

What I’ve Noticed Recently About Mental Health

For as long as I can remember God has given me great compassion for those who deal with mental illness. These brave warriors get up every day and fight battles that those around them may know nothing about. I’ve always hated the stigma around mental illness for many reasons but most of all, because it is one of the biggest reasons precious people stay trapped, unhealthy, and hurting. Anytime I’ve tried to put into words my frustration with the shame our world puts on those battling depression, anxiety, and the like, I feel I come up short.

But here we are again. One more attempt. One more hope that maybe one more way of looking at it will make sense to potentially one more person. And it’s all inspired by a little pink pill.

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Yep, this little pill the size of a mini chocolate chip gave me some new perspective. Perhaps what I learned might be helpful for you as well.

Back in May I had half of my thyroid removed and while my left half is putting in some great work (Good job, Thyroid!), it can’t really keep up with producing the amount of thyroid hormones my body needs to function each day.

So, I now take a little pink pill each morning. The hope and prayer is that over time this little pink pill will now do something my body can’t.

What strikes me is that I haven’t had a single person tell me I shouldn’t take this pill. (Besides some crazy people on the internet who want to sell me their own version of something that they claim works better, but I’m not talking about them right now.)

I had a part of my body removed and taking this pill will do what my body can’t do for itself anymore. It’s pretty straight forward. It seems good and normal and right to just about everyone I’ve come across.

Yet, I look around at so many friends and families members who literally have some of the same exact symptoms and mental health struggles I do right now, but because the cause of their depression or anxiety or brain fog or fatigue is different, they’re treated completely different.

I’ve been dealing with this for almost 10 months now. In that time no one has told me I should “ just pray more” or “have more faith” when I’m so tired I can barely get out of bed. No one has told me to “snap out of it” or “pull myself together” on days when I’m depressed or struggling to form a coherent sentence or when I took time off work to heal from surgery. No one has told me the medicine I started taking last week is unnecessary and I should “just trust God to heal me.”

No one.

My friends whose hormones are out of wack, but for other reasons hear that kind of crap all. the. time.

Here’s the reality: Anyone dealing with a mental health challenge IS battling a PHYSICAL illness. While I understand the concept of the category of mental illnesses, I think even that label sometimes reinforces the false concept that “it’s all in our heads” when we struggle with these things. Yes, these problems impact the way we think and the way our brains work which is why that title fits. (It also makes it that much HARDER than other physical illnesses to navigate.)

When our bodies and minds battle with these illnesses it is most often because something is physically off in our bodies. It can come from trauma, a problem with the neurotransmitters in our brains, or even genetics. Another key contributing factor: an imbalance of hormones… the very thing I’m dealing with right now.

It frustrates me that simply because the cause of MY hormones being off is as obvious as the 2 inch scar on my neck, I get offered grace and understanding that so many in this world never receive.

As I’ve battled days of fatigue and brain fog and depression waiting for my thyroid replacement medicine to kick in, the people around me encourage me and support me and help me do tangible things I didn’t feel capable of doing. Yes, they’ve prayed with me, encouraged me in my faith, and asked God again and again for healing on my behalf. They also told me to take a nap or go home early from work.

When I had my surgery, people showed up at my door for weeks with homemade meals and drove me to appointments and sent me cards and gifts and ice cream.

Even before that, when I walked through months of trying to figure out what was actually wrong with my body and what doctors could maybe do to fix it, friends and family texted me and listened to me and asked about how doctor visits went.

So if you don’t know how to help friends battling things like anxiety or depression or bipolar disorder … maybe just start there:

Send the text. Make the meal. Mail the card.
Drive them to the doctor.
Sit with them in their tears.
Go on a walk with them.
Ask them how a therapy appointment went.
Laugh with them.

Buy them ice cream!!!

Yes, mental illness is harder to explain than a broken arm or even a thyroid removal. You may not “get it” and it might make you a bit uncomfortable.

But it’s not that complicated: Just show up, people!

Your friends need your love not judgment.

Oh! And if (whether temporarily or for the rest of their lives) they need a little pink or white or blue or some other color pill to help them feel like a normal functioning human being, by all means stop shaming them for it. Maybe throw them a party instead and celebrate that there might just possibly be a way out of their fog.

Uncategorized

Planted by the Streams

I planned to start looking for a house to buy last month. I started saving a couple years ago and for the last 10 months participated in a savings program at the bank. As part of this, I can get a $7500 grant toward down payments and closing costs if I buy a home within the next year. That’s some significant help toward this dream! As I said, I planned to start actually looking for a house in August or early September. Long story short, God had other plans.

For various reasons that don’t really matter, I decided a couple weeks ago to put that off for a while. It might be just for a month or so, or maybe longer, not really sure right now. The cool part is that instead of disappointment, I’ve found peace.

A few days before I made the decision to postpone this for a while longer I found myself at a nearby park sitting beside a creek that runs along some trails.

I pondered all that was happening in life at that moment. Let’s suffice it to say, my summer was crazy and while the pace of the fall has slowed a bit, the crazy hasn’t stopped. Crazy at work. Crazy with family members being sick. Crazy being sick myself still recovering from surgery 3 months ago and figuring out life with half a thyroid. Crazy relationships. Crazy emotions. Crazytown all over the place.

In the midst of the crazy, sitting beside the creek, simply staring at water crash over rocks, I noticed the trees on the opposite bank. Roots reaching deep into the water, standing tall and green. This passage from Jeremiah came vividly to mind:

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. (Jeremiah‬ ‭17:7-8‬‬)

Despite the crazy… the droughts… the heat of life… there is a way of life that still leads to steadiness and faithfulness. I wanted that.

In that moment, I knew this verse would become a defining one for this season of life. If I remain planted by the water, if I let my roots draw from the unlimited source of life and nourishment, if I trust… I will be okay. I will be steady. I will continue to bear fruit in my life and the ministry to which God has called me.

I wasn’t really thinking about the ‘crazy’ of first time home-ownership when pondering all the other crazy there by the creek except for this one passing thought: “Maybe I can find a house near some water”.

Only later in that week (AFTER the decision to postpone the house hunting for now) did I have this revelation:

That creek I was sitting by, if you follow it down for miles through all it’s twists and turns, it passes right in front of my current apartment!

Seriously!?! I can’t make this stuff up.

I may have to ignore some traffic driving by or look past the guardrail, but from my porch or my bedroom window I can see it clearly: more trees, lining the bank, roots stretching down into the water, green and fruitful.

Only God knows when and where He’ll have me move, but for now, He has me literally planted beside the water in a season of figuring out figuratively what that kind of trust looks like. Only our God, y’all… only our God!

66 in 52 Challenge

Romans – Week 39 {66 in 52 Challenge}

aThis is part of the 66 in 52 Bible Journaling Challenge. Over the course of the 52 weeks in 2018, I will focus in on one verse from each book of the Bible with many others who have signed up to join me. Each week I will be posting a summary page with some thought about that week’s book(s) of the Bible along with some links that may help our reflection. Click here to sign up if you want to join us at any point along the journey!

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Week 39 - Romans

The Big Picture of Romans:

Romans is the first of a series of letters we find in the New Testament. Paul (the author of Romans) and others would write letters to individuals or groups to encourage them. As the good news of Jesus began to spread there wasn’t enough of Paul or other disciples to be in all the places. These letters kept helped guide the early church. While each letter had an initial intended audience (the Church in Rome in this case), they were often circulated around to many cities and many churches.

In the first chapter we see one huge purpose in writing this specific letter was to tell those in Rome that they had been chosen and loved by Jesus and that the good news was not just for Jews, but for all who believe (1:5-6). Throughout the rest of the book, Paul lays out what have become the basics of faith: our sin and need for a Savior, the fact that Jesus paid the price for us, how God’s Spirit helps us live a life of obedience, and the promise of eternal life with Jesus for those who believe. If I could sum up the whole book in one short phrase it would be this: GOOD NEWS!

Basic Outline of Romans:

  • Chapters 1-4 – Focuses on our inability to live “right with God” (a righteous life) and our need for justification and forgiveness through faith
  • Chapters 5-8 – Tells us that justification is both a reality right now and something we hope for… that one day we really will be completely right before God
  • Chapters 9-11 – We see Paul’s sorrow that so many don’t believe this good news
  • Chapter 12-16 – Explain how this good news can impact our every day life

A Few Key Verses and Possible Reflection Questions/Prayers:

Some of us are planning to read through the whole book or books each week, while others are just focusing in on one verse per book. This section of the weekly intro post might help you narrow down a verse to reflect on for the week, but you do not have to choose one of these verse, pick any section of the book you want! These are just some ideas.

  • 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 12:2
    REFLECTION: In what ways are you tempted to conform to the patterns of this world? How might a new way of thinking about those things help you determine God’s will?
  • “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8
    REFLECTION: What other ways have you witnessed God demonstrate His love fo ryou lately?
  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
    REFLECTION: Spend some time in confession. Then, spend some time praising God for the free gift of grace that restores our relationship because of Jesus.

Some Other Resources:

The Challenge:

So now it’s your turn! Pick a verse and settle in this week, or read through the whole book. If you post any picture or blogs on social media, tag them with #66in52challenge so we can all share in this journey together!

God-Sighting Saturday

In weakness… {God Sighting Saturday}

img_0656-e1537648957444.jpgSome weeks lately I’ve hesitated posting a God Sighting Saturday list because it often focuses on all the good things in life, the noteworthy and exciting things. Even the hard things mentioned often get framed in a good light, and like often happens with social media, it gives off a false impression that life is 100% awesome all of the time. It’s not true. That one person you know on Facebook that always seems to “have their life all together” … totally does not. You know that, right?!?

I’ve wrestled a lot lately with what to post on social media or what to write on the blog, especially when it comes to gratitude and the “good” things of life. This is hard because I’ve also been hyper-aware of the not-so-good things in my friends’ lives and mine as well. I’m challenged to present the whole picture, and yet, posting the good moments… the God-moments, for me at least, are not necessarily trying to hide the hard that we all have in life. Rather, it’s about focusing my mind and heart on what matters most in the middle of the hard. It’s a “holy defiance” of sorts.

Even this morning I was accused by a friend of throwing on a happy face when she knew I wasn’t so happy. While there might be some truth to that (friends always know!), the bigger reality was that I was actively trying to be defiant against letting a hard morning ruin a whole day. “Fake-it-til-you-make-it” can be deception and if we’re not careful about being honest about what’s hard we can isolate ourselves and become bitter and lonely. At the same time, I think there is some space for willing ourselves into gratitude.. for staring down the hard and simply saying, “Not today Satan”.

He is a thief. Oh man, he loves to do anything to steal and kill and destroy in our lives (John 10:10). He delights in seeing the littlest thing ruin a day or distract us from the life God has for us. He fights so hard.

And we must fight back.

Sometimes that fight looks like choosing to post the one good thing that happened in a day.

Sometimes it looks like a long gratitude list of the good things because our brains have been listing the not-so-good on repeat and something has to break that cycle.

Sometimes it looks like getting out of bed, putting on a favorite shirt (even if you’re not 100% sure whether it’s clean or not), digging out a smile, and going on with your day whether you feel like it or not.

All that to say this: the place I saw God at work this week most was in my weakness. Every single time I saw God show up came wrapped in something hard or painful or exhausting. The moments when physically, emotionally, or spiritually I was tempted to ‘throw in the towel’ so to speak were the moments that left me with so much joy at what God accomplished despite my failure or lack.

“… I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. … when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

Verse nine talks about God’s power showing up in contrast to our weakness. However, in verse ten, it’s not just God who’s strong… WE become strong when we depend on His power in our weakness.  I don’t always understand this upside-down and backwards way of God’s Kingdom, but I’m thankful for this truth: when I am weak, I am also my strongest. While Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians have often been favorites of mine, I don’t think I’ve every seen them as true as I did this week. Yes, I saw God in awesome encouraging friends and incredible conversations and the ministry I got to be part of and cute babies, but more than anything, I saw Him in my weakness. He showed up… big time and for that I can’t thank Him enough!

Books

The Rest of God {What I’m Reading Wednesday}

This past week I finished reading “The Rest of God” by Mark Buchanan. A funny story about this book is that when I picked it up a couple months ago and started making my way through it, I thought I was re-reading it. I had posted quotes from this book and recommended it to others. I even bought a few extra copies of the ebook one day when it was on sale to give away. (Which, if you’re interested in a free copy, comment below!) I was so convinced this had been one of the best books I had read (especially on this topic) and was looking forward to revisiting it as I entered into a season of more intention rest following my surgery.

Then, I started reading and realized something crazy: I’ve never read this book before! I had definitely read parts of it, but there were whole other chapters I had never seen.

Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint! Not one bit. The truth it spoke as I’ve picked it up and put it down over the last few months has been timely, helpful, and encouraging.

One great thing about this book is that after each chapter it gives an idea for a “Sabbath Liturgy”. By the end of the book you’ve been equipped with 14 ideas for how to live in the rest of God (as in resting) and discover the rest of God (in the sense of there’s so much more still to discover). The chapters leading up to each liturgy are packed with humor and theology and stories from the author that not only point out our need for rest, but the amazing God who longs to give us this great gift. The book talks about Sabbath both as a day set apart and an attitude with which we walk through life. In the end, it points forward to a day where we will enjoy eternal rest forever. In a world where we seem to compete to be the busiest and then wonder why our lives are falling apart, Buchanan offers another option.

There are so many great things I could share from this book, but here are a few that have stuck out specifically to me:

“Sabbath is both a day and an attitude to nurture such stillness. It is both time on a calendar and a disposition of the heart. It is a day we enter, but just as much a way we see. Sabbath imparts the rest of God—actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God—the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.” (Page 2)

“It’s easy… to spend most of your life breaking Sabbath and never figure out that this is part of the reason your work’s unsatisfying, your friendships patchy, your leisure threadbare, your vacations exhausting. We simply haven’t taken time. We’ve not been still long enough, often enough, to know ourselves, our friends, our family. Our God.” (Page 61)

“Exodus grounds Sabbath in creation. Deuteronomy grounds it in liberation. Exodus remembers Eden, Deuteronomy Egypt. In Exodus, Sabbath-keeping is about imitating divine example and receiving divine blessing. In Deuteronomy, it is about taking hold of divine deliverance and observing divine command. Exodus looks up. Deuteronomy looks back. Exodus gives theological rationale for rest, and Deuteronomy historical justification for it. One evokes God’s character, the other his redemption. One calls us to holy mimicry—be like God; the other to holy defiance—never be slaves again…

Slaves don’t rest. Slaves can’t rest. Slaves, by definition, have no freedom to rest. Rest, it turns out, is a condition of liberty. God calls us to live in the freedom that he won for us with his own outstretched arm. Sabbath is a refusal to go back to Egypt..” (Pages 87-90)

And my very favorite… the one that drew me in to actually reading this book:

“…the truth is, the work’s never done, and never done quite right. It’s always more than you can finish and less than you had hoped for. So what? Get this straight: The rest of God—the rest God gladly gives so that we might discover that part of God we’re missing—is not a reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s sheer gift. It is a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfillment of all our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.” (Page 93)

Other Books I’m Currently Reading:

These two books came available as audiobooks through my local library around the same time. It’s been interesting to listen to them both alongside each other right now. They have such different writing styles and purposes but seem to be offering just the right balance of wisdom from two ends of a spectrum. Hope to write next week about these two!

And again, if you’d like a free Kindle version of “The Rest of God”, comment below! I have a few to give away!

Uncategorized

On Symphonies and Life

I love listening to music. I enjoy various genres and instruments, simple and complex.

I listen to music while I drive in the car.

I listen to music in the morning as I get ready.

I listen to music sometimes while I work.

I listen to music a lot.

However, I’m noticing that I rarely JUST listen.

I sing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and this past weekend we got to sing with the orchestra as they kicked off their season. This meant a lot of rehearsing and a lot of time spent at Kleinhans, the music hall where we perform. On Friday night our call time was 6:30, but we ended up not getting to our part in the rehearsal until sometime around 9. We knew there would be some wait time but weren’t sure how long and I contemplated bringing something to do during the wait… a book to read, a journal to write in, some emails that needed answered.

But then I stopped myself.

What would it be like if I just sat and listened to the music?

How often do we get the chance to sit in an amazing music hall and listen to incredible professional musicians (including one of the most well known American soloists) for a couple hours (for free) just because?

By putting down my phone/book/etc. I was able to simply enjoy the moment. The way the themes moved across the orchestra. The way the soloist communicated a story though I had no clue of the English translation of what he was saying. The way one song was completely different than the next. The fine detail the conductor could hear, able to correct one little note that was slightly flat or late or simply just not what she wanted despite the intense, complex sound coming from the dozens of instruments before her.

I watched intently and then I closed my eyes to take in all the sounds and then I opened them again to watch. There is something about being in a moment (whether on stage or in the seats) that makes you come a little more alive when taking in some live music.

  • Maybe a night at the orchestra isn’t your thing. That’s okay… go find a dueling piano bar or your favorite heavy metal band in concert. Go and just listen. Or perhaps music all together has no intrigue; symphonies are all around us if we pay attention: the roar of the crowd rising and falling with the plays in the sporting event, the giggles and conversation of kids on a playground, the hum and beat of tools in a workshop.
  • Whatever your “music” of choice, the key is this… get lost in a moment. Stop and listen. Enjoy the simplicity of the ‘task at hand’ while standing in awe of the complexities it holds. Take it all in and perhaps you’ll breath a bit deeper, smile a bit wider, relax those tense shoulders, and live.