Fireworks, Fears, and Finding Freedom

photo-1521478413868-1bbd982fa4a5It’s the May long weekend in Canada, and for many that means frenzied gardening and fireworks. Last night, after a gruelling day of gardening—and a decently grueling 8 AM workout—once happily tucked into bed I could still hear fireworks firing at 11:30 PM. My dog, Angel, is frightened of fireworks, so when she heard the explosions she crawled and hid under the side table next to our bed.

When faced with something fearful, I’ve been known to behave like Angel. Instead of bravely facing it, I hide. Like the fireworks for my dog, often the thing I’m afraid of isn’t really that scary and won’t hurt me at all. It just sounds scary, or I build it up in my mind to be larger than it is, put roadblocks where none exist, and delay facing it altogether.

Facing fears is hard. They come in the form of a conversation you know you need to have but are putting off for fear it will cause conflict or remain unresolved. It may be that task at work you’ve been given but are avoiding because you don’t know where to start or exactly how to do it. It may be the goal you’ve been holding close to your heart but are afraid to start for fear you’ll fail. It may be that you’re afraid of what people think of you so you avoid social situations. Or it could be a life change that would benefit you, but you’re afraid of the unknowns. Fear often makes us hide from the very thing we need to face to move forward.

To counter this, we need to give our fears a good stare down. They’re what stand between our goals and dreams and even our freedom. Like anything, you can’t get good at something you don’t work at. Every fear we fight and conquer makes the next fearful challenge easier, and brings us closer to the person God made us to be and the things we’re called to be doing. Facing fears gives us confidence to move forward and reach further. Soon you’ll develop a kind of fear-confidence where you find you’re no longer hiding from your fears but boldly and regularly facing them.

Start small. Tackle one small fear at a time. If it doesn’t go well, instead of giving up, assess what went wrong and try again. As much as depends on you, don’t quit. Every failure is growth, and the more you grow the stronger you become. With enough practice, you’ll find the thing that was formerly fearful has become a lot easier and maybe even a strength.

Pick one thing you know you’ve been putting off or hiding from then write down one concrete thing you can try to tackle it. For instance, you’re terrified of public speaking but the job you really want involves speaking to audiences on occasion, so you muster courage and sign up for a public speaking course. Whatever it is, choose one thing and start. Then choose the next, and don’t give up. Facing fears is hard, but so worth it. You never know what you can do until you try. Write down your achievements. When you look back in just a few months you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!

No matter what age, it’s never too late to learn and grow, and it’s never too late to face your fears. Freedom awaits!

“’For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,’ declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” ~ Isaiah 41:13-14

 

 

 

Enough (Part Two) – My Chocolate Fix

shutterstock_560576248As I mentioned, I used to have a chocolate addiction. It was of the calibre that controls. My body craved those delectable, dark morsels and a steady rate of consumption occurred throughout each day. I couldn’t remember a day since childhood that hadn’t included chocolate or ice-cream, such was the depth of my relationship with sweets. They were my go-to. These sorts of entrenched, long-term habits are difficult to break.

Just as one addicted to nicotine might vaguely wonder if their addiction is killing them, the copious amounts of chocolate I daily consumed led me to think likewise. But I wasn’t ready to stop. I’m not convinced I could have if I’d tried.

One Sunday morning after the sermon, the pastor invited anyone who needed to lay something down at the altar to come to the front of the church. They wouldn’t have to say what it was, but just quietly come to the altar and hand it over. The Holy Spirit nudged me to go up and relinquish chocolate. I tried to ignore the prompt. Again it came.

My internal struggle went something like this: I’m not going up there. It’s just chocolate. People will think it’s actually important, like I’m cheating on my spouse or something. I’ll just quietly deal with it right here. But by the third prompting I knew that somehow I’d better listen. Forgetting about what others might think I forced myself up to the front.

When I returned to the pew my husband leaned over and whispered, “Did you go up for chocolate?” I was stunned. I thought I had done a decent job of hiding my addiction. Later, when I asked him how he knew it was about chocolate he told me, “I knew you had a problem when one day you told me you only ate seven truffles that day.”

Once home from church I discovered I no longer craved chocolate or any sweets for that matter. And it stayed that way. For a long while I didn’t eat chocolate at all for fear of falling backwards. When I eventually did, it no longer held the same allure. I could go to a restaurant and be just as satisfied with apple pie over chocolate mousse. I have since thought that surely there must have been larger faults that God could have chosen to heal other than my prolific chocolate consumption. But he was just getting warmed up.

I have also considered that there’s a chance I wouldn’t have been healed if I hadn’t set aside my pride, listened to the Holy Spirit, and obediently dragged myself to the front of the church to release my addiction. I needed to humble myself and set aside the fear of what others may have thought to let God deal with this consuming, unhealthy behaviour.

Here’s the real point. God still heals. Sometimes instantly, sometimes over a longer period of time, and sometimes not at all. But he still can. Sometimes he saves us from ourselves by plucking us out of the problem. Other times he allows our situation to linger a bit longer, leads us through it, and teaches us some deeper things about ourselves during it. (see: Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.) Either way, he’s there to help us at all times and as many times as needed.

It doesn’t have to be chocolate. It can be anything that we overindulge in, find we can’t control, or use to fill the emptiness—several others of which I’ve noticed in myself in the years since the chocolate fix. You can bring whatever it is to God, and hand it over to him effectively letting go and acknowledging, I need help. He’ll aid you in your struggle so you don’t have to face it alone. He’ll heal your soul—and all the empty places you’ve been attempting to fill— when you come near to him.

And large crowds came to Him, bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them.

~ Matthew 15:30 

 

 

 

Enough

shutterstock_107062958.jpgI was addicted to chocolate. By mid-morning, I’d be rummaging through the cupboard for any available morsel. One was never enough. A handful failed to quench my desire. Why on earth would anyone choose apple pie over chocolate mousse? I wasn’t one to put on weight easily, so my addiction remained hidden.

What is it about our human condition that makes it shockingly easy to over-indulge? Why such insatiable appetites? And it’s not just food. It can be anything. Too much TV, shopping, work, or working out. Too much wine, whining, or finding fault. Too much of anything unmanaged can easily become destructive.

Enough is enough. Only it isn’t. What propels us to keep filling up? We only need more when we’re empty. There’s not enough chocolate in the world to fill what was never meant to be replaced by cocoa or caffeine—or anything else for that matter. No amount of promotions or Pinterest, Doritos or dopamine, nicotine or numbing drugs, gambling or gaming, shopping or shows, food or fashion, sex or social media will ever manufacture the real hit you desire.

But all of these fillers feel good—for a time. Until they don’t.

Because here’s the thing: there’s a God-sized hole in our souls meant only to be filled by God. But we stuff the space full and sell ourselves short with cheap imitations. We run and hide. We misunderstand what it means to know God and the true peace and joy that accompanies this relationship. We wonder if trading in our habits and addictions for friendship with God will be boring. We may even believe our sins are too great for us to be accepted by God.

The truth is God made you and delights in you. You aren’t a random hunk of matter going through the motions until you die. You MATTER to him. He lived to die for you so all the filth in your life can be wiped clean. The cross bought your second chance. Jesus died to not only assure you eternity but to offer you a more abundant life today.

If you think you’re too messed-up to be eligible, you’re wrong. In his own words, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) All your mess-ups are erased the moment you accept Jesus. You begin again—a glorious part two—but now you have his Holy Spirit to help and guide you. You’re no longer alone. He fills the empty hole with his love, joy, and peace with enough to share with others. No matter how deep the hole, how old you are, how messy you feel, it’s not too late.

Are you content with the life you’re living today? Is there an emptiness you’ve never managed to fill? Have the quick fixes provided long-term satisfaction? Do you wonder if there’s something more, or a better way to live? Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). And in John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

One simple prayer to God, asking him to forgive your sins and be the true God of your life, can alter your every tomorrow. I know because it has mine, and I’ve never looked back.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” ~ 1 John 1:9

More next time on how my chocolate addiction was resolved…

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  1. What are you using to fill the God-sized hole in your life?
  2. If you confess your sins and receive him, he will make you new.

 

 

Mothers Matter

60061661_398175194371684_245086476180652032_nMom—you matter. What you’re doing for your kids is priceless. Every cry you cuddle away, every nose you wipe clean, each math problem you help solve, the listening ear you lend, all matter. Every time you show up—though bone weary and burdened—matters. The way you encourage from the sidelines of your kids’ lives is profoundly meaningful.

Though there are days you feel you have nothing left to give, you draw from a well of strength to water those precious humans enabling them to flourish. Though there are times you feel unappreciated, invisible, or empty, you humbly serve until others are filled. Though you have worries and wounds of your own, you set them aside to tend to scraped knees and bruised souls so they can be healed.

16997859_10154763987230091_8451233638891806965_nAnd though they don’t necessarily notice it, their little eyes absorb your selfless actions. Their hearts are nurtured by your words. Their souls are refreshed by your hugs. Their minds are cushioned by your love—all of this mothering an example they will one day reflect.

There will be days you’ll mourn your imperfect parenting. The way you grow impatient, irritated, or ignore what needs to be done. It might perplex you when you don’t have all the answers, and feel frustratingly at a loss to guide a wayward behaviour or resolve a sibling conflict. But through it all, you cling to the hope that—though imperfect—you did your best and trust God will do the rest.

The days are long but the years are short, and soon the little humans entrusted to your care need you less and less. More often you find you have to close your mouth and wait to be asked than offer your advice. There are no words to describe your pride for the remarkable people they have become. Somewhat bewildered, and strangely at a loss, you gradually loosen your grip so they can launch.

16507857_10154705964255091_4677011891195730862_nNow, the memories of playing with paper planes and toy boats float on the edges of your mind, a fluid reminder of time passed. Yet within the recesses of your kids’ minds and memories, and built into the fabric of their dreams, drifts the voice of their mother cheering them on. The former years of words and deeds compiled to form a foundation of acceptance and love that enables them to reach for their goals and build their lives.

For all your personal faults and frailties, the part you played was integral and instrumental in raising these humans. Like the formation of a log home, your mothering carved beauty, strength, shelter, and a lasting impression into their lives. If you failed to do it all, God met you at every turn. And as chink, he expertly filled in all the extra spaces packing it with his love.

61902_466304505090_5480924_nToday, be reminded that all you are, and all you’re doing, matters. Your sacrificial love and poured-out life is a gift to your children. Just as you can’t adequately put into words the depth of your love for them, they may never fully articulate all you mean to them. But God has seen it all and is cheering you on, aiding you on this lifetime journey of motherhood.

You are worthy, and needed, and so very precious. Happy Mother’s Day!

59907756_1572078456263005_6133947798225158144_n
From left to right: my mom-in-law, youngest daughter, mum, sister, and me.

Her children rise up and call her blessed. ~ Proverbs 31:28

Applauding Failure

shutterstock_489435382When approaching something new we can be so afraid to do something wrong—or be bad at it—that we not only procrastinate, we never even try. We can be paralyzingly afraid to fail. But hear this: you don’t have to be perfect, or the best, you just need to do your best. Even before that, you simply need to begin.

Nike’s tagline was perfect: “Just do it”. We can be immobilized wondering how to start, afraid of all the unknowns, fearful of what others think, and particularly afraid to fail. It takes courage to try something new and step out of our comfort bubble. Though starting is the hardest part, starting over is where the battle is won.

If you fail—good. I mean it. Failure is sooo good. Making mistakes is the way we learn and grow. Failure builds the grit we need to keep us from quitting. Mistakes aid humility, form us into authentic human beings, and fuel compassion for others. Failure inspires fortitude and ensures we appreciate the gift of arriving at our goal.  Success is sweeter because of the skinned knees and bruises we received while missing the mark. If we aren’t failing it’s possible we’re too comfortable, or even standing still.

Just because you failed, it doesn’t make you a failure. Quite the opposite. You linked arms with bravery long enough to try something difficult. You reached high enough to be breathlessly uncomfortable. The hard things you dared made future tasks less daunting. Accomplishing the seemingly unreachable made the next challenge that much easier. Through it all, you didn’t allow failure to define you.

So you, wildly gifted you, step out—as often as needed. You don’t give up. Each day you pluck away at one smaller aspect of the larger task. You don’t know exactly how you will accomplish your audacious goal, but the fire fueling the inspiration refuses to be extinguished. In spite of the unknowns, the crippling feelings of inadequacy, and fear of failure, you don’t quit.

Soon you realize that you’ve completed that marathon, decluttered your home, started your own TV show, saved untold lives, raised a house full of kids, are running your own business, have written that novel, and are celebrating decades of marriage. You’re blissfully surrounded by supportive others on their unique journey, and are championing them on theirs. More than that, you’re deeply grateful for everything—even the failures, of which every single one you survived.

All because you showed up, and didn’t give up. You tried when you were tired, and kept on though you worried you didn’t do it well enough, or fully enough, or were the best for the job. You smiled when you could have cried, because you knew its warmth would lend strength to another. Each day, no matter the mountain, you put one foot in front of the other, drawing from a pool of faith and hoping that—by the grace of God—your efforts would compile to make a dint of difference. That somehow you would scale the summit.

And though it wasn’t the end goal, you got acquainted with your true self. You grew to like your own company and recognised that you’re enough. That the effort was enough and that no part of it was wasted. The failures were the fabric of the journey; all of them forming a depth and richness that much sweeter for the mistakes. Anything lacking, all the stumbles and scraped knees, God somehow stitched together with the golden threads of his love.

So here’s to all the times you could have quit but didn’t. The times you could have listened to the naysayers but plugged your ears. The times it would have been easier to remain on your rear-end in the dust-riddled remains of your pride than risk rising. The times you could have retreated but carried on weary and battle worn. Here’s to not letting go of your vision and for having the heart to start in the first place.

And here’s one more encouragement. Think of the sculptor. He sees the sculpture while it’s still a hunk of stone, then sets about the painstaking work to reveal it one chip at a time. One small manageable piece. And think of you: still in formation; bravely chipping away one small task at a time, hewing you closer to the completion of the larger one. Or, as one of my pastors used to say, “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Mile by mile it takes awhile.”

Whatever it is, just do it!

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  1. What mountain or obstacle are you facing today? Is it a tangible task, or something you must overcome in your thinking?
  2. Pray for the courage and strength to do what needs to be done today.
  3. Break it into smaller pieces, and tackle one small bit at a time. Show up, do your best, and, just as the sculptor, keep your vision in mind.

 

 

 

 

Nose Tears

crying picRecently, my 10-year-old told me something enlightening. She said she learned in school that when you cry and your nose runs, it’s actually tears coming out of your nostrils. Nose tears? I was astounded. How could I have lived for forty-eight years and never heard of this phenomenon? This led me to think about all the other times my nose runs besides when I cry or have a cold.

For instance, my nose often runs when I’m enjoying hot food, particularly soup. I’m rather partial to soup. Does this mean I’m crying tears of joy while sipping? I experience a runny nose when outside in the cold. I rather dislike the cold. Perhaps I’m crying tears of pain that I must endure Canadian winters. And when I go for a run, my nose runs along with me. Are these tears of elation since running has always been a passion of mine, or my body secretly shedding tears of compassion for the endurance needed to complete the rigorous exercise?

Apparently there are different types of tears. My daughter informed me there are psychic tears (happiness or sadness), basal tears to keep the eyes lubricated, and reflex tears as a response to things like onions or tear gas. I looked it up and learned that the various types also look different under a microscope (see image below). How cool is that?

tears-600x600
The Topography of Tears ~Rose-Lynn Fisher

It’s amazing to me that God created us to release different types of tears, but also an outpouring of them when we experience strong emotions. Physic tears contain a natural painkiller, called leucine enkephalin, that also acts to improve mood. Apparently, when we shed tears, built-up chemicals are released from the body. I suppose the release of these endorphins and chemicals explain why we feel better after a good cry.

I have always loved this verse:

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. ~ Psalm 56:8

The idea that God keeps track of my pain and sadness, and even records them, is a marvelous comfort to me. But that he collects my tears and that they are precious to him brings tears of joy and wonder itself. It shows that our suffering matters to him—intimately. Not one tear or trial are forgotten by him. He hears every pain-riddled prayer and sees every soul-searing sorrow we experience.

I envision arriving in heaven and God holding up my tear jar. I imagine him sitting next to me flipping through the pages of my book of sorrows. I picture him showing me how all the pain and hardship I experienced on earth fit together. I’ll be in awe of how all the trials had a purpose even though I couldn’t understand while in the midst of them. I’ll be amazed at the way his mercy met me at every turn, how his love anchored me, and how his arms carried me through it all; nothing unnoticed by his loving gaze. I’ll gape at how God used it all and somehow managed to turn it into pure gold.

If tears have been your steady companion as of late, and trials pour in like the spring rains, take heart. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6) You are not abandoned or forgotten. He collects those tears and records your sorrows. He sees it all.

Before Jesus was led to the cross, he warned his disciples about some of the trials to come saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This life will not be without trials, we aren’t in heaven yet, but we have God’s spirit to help, guide, and comfort us.

His love is tender and true, and he hasn’t forgotten you!

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  1. Sometimes in trials we are tempted to think God doesn’t care or has forgotten us.
  2. How does it make you feel to know God collects your tears and records every bit of your sorrows?
  3. His love is unlimited and unconditional. Cling to him even in this trial.

If you enjoyed this devo, look for Soul Focus – 30-Day Devotional & Journal (coming Fall 2019), a collection of daily encouragements for overcoming life’s trials. Click here to learn more: Books  

 

 

When I Die

Twenty-six springs have passed since we moved into our neighbourhood. I can’t say how long before we arrived, but even back then an elderly couple lived at the corner house across the street. Every spring their garden came alive and apart from winter, you’d be sure to find them planting, puttering, and tending their blooming menagerie.

This spring, as every other, their flowers are once again pushing toward their prolific show. The green beginnings of new life poke out from the soil declaring winter’s end. You wouldn’t know it to look at the garden, but something is different; one of the caretakers is no longer there. The man sits alone in that sacred space the two of them once shared. The flowers silently about their cheery work won’t tell you that late last summer, the woman passed away in her beloved garden as her family gathered to celebrate her birthday.

Though shockingly sad and sudden, a small space in me can’t help but think that’s just the very place she would have picked; departing from this world on the same day she arrived several decades apart in the place she most loved. Now her garden lives on—a flowering legacy for others. All the beauty she painstakingly sowed now being enjoyed by every passerby.

I think of my life. Will I sow flowers? Will others be left better than I found them? Will the things I’ve done make some small, meaningful impact for good? Will beauty poke out of the dark crevices of others’ lives because of some small deposit dropped into their soul? Perhaps a kind word or deed, an encouragement or offered shoulder in the storm.

I know it’s not just about kindnesses. It’s about choices. One thought in particular nestles into the fabric of everyone’s thoughts, especially as the latter years settle in: where will I go after this? Many prefer to push away thoughts of death, but I’d rather face them head-on. Eternity awaits, and though I don’t morbidly live for my last breath, I should live each day as if it were my last.

I’m sure my flower-loving neighbour had no warning of the sudden heart attack she would experience that day. In this way, I too cannot predict how many days I’m gifted with or which moment will be my last. But I want to be ready: better prepared than I’ve ever been for anything in my life.

When I leave behind the shell I was given to move me through this world—the one that enabled me to speak and write out thoughts, to reach out with hands to comfort, to walk to the places I was meant to tread—my spirit will live forever. That’s where the choice comes in. We each have a decision to make, and it affects where we spend eternity.

It’s not complicated. At least, it wasn’t meant to be. There’s only one decision to make, and I can make it well ahead of time. And I have. I chose Jesus. I chose to accept his free gift of life and love he purchased for me (and you) on the cross. I admitted my sin, asked for forgiveness, and now live each day assured that when my time comes I’m saved from hell, and will be with him forever in heaven. There’s not a thing I can do to assure heaven except to believe and receive Jesus. I cannot take anything with me save my faith in him.

I’m sure heaven’s gardens are glorious. It’s my hope we’ll dance there together among the flowers!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

~ John 14:6

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

~ Revelation 21:4

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  1. If tomorrow were your last day on earth, are you certain where you would spend eternity?
  2. If not, a simple, heartfelt prayer can change that. There is no formula. Just speak to God and tell him you are sorry for the wrongs that you have done, that you believe Jesus died for them and paid the price so you can spend eternity with him in heaven. Ask for his forgiveness. Move forward with his Holy Spirit as your guide.
  3. The best way to learn about God is to read the Bible, find a Christ-centered church, and surround yourself with other Christ-followers.