Definitely Not Smarter than a Fifth Grader

This week’s Fifth grade Sunday school lesson focuses on the importance of God’s word. We will each get ten paper rectangles to record the things we take time to learn about. Then, each of us will use our rectangles to build a pyramid of our priorities. I’m calling it the Personal Priority Pyramid, or PPP for short. Even though we will write down different interests and subjects, the exercise is intended to show that we should still all have the Bible at the top of our PPPs. I’m supposed to make it personal by sharing about a time when God’s word wasn’t at the top of my PPP and how that wreaked havoc in my life until I reprioritized.

I’m pretty sure this week’s lesson has brought about more growth in me than it will in the Fifth grade girls I’ll be teaching!

It’s not really the lesson itself that stirs up uneasiness within me, or at least, not the lesson as it appears at face value. Sharing about something personal certainly doesn’t cause me any turmoil. I’m more or less an open book. And it’s super easy to think of a time in my life that pertains to the lesson, so that’s not the opportunity for growth.

It took me a while to realize that the reason this lesson makes me uncomfortable is not because it’s not true, but because I so often fall short at remembering it. The experience that jumps to the front of my mind is from twenty years ago if that tells you anything. When I was in college, my area of expertise somehow all of a sudden became entirely about food and exercise. I could tell you how many calories and fat grams were in EVERYTHING, how much and what type of exercise would burn off those calories and fat grams, and exactly what I had eaten every day for the past month. Today, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone, last Wednesday. But the devil had a firm grip on me, and it took everything I had to find release. I started taking anti-depressants. I went to therapist after therapist. I went to church. I sang in a choir. I gave up caring about food or weight and ordered pizza. But most importantly, I read the Bible. God led me to His word and guided me through it during that difficult time like He never had before.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ve felt that connected to the Bible since then.

I want to say this lack of connection is all related to the fact that God has filled me in other ways these past couple decades – through the Holy Spirit, through relationships and community, through inspirational Christian speakers and authors, through prayer, through writing and speaking. But the truth is that I’m also – mostly – at fault. The only other time I’ve tried to read the Bible all the way through, I stopped in Isaiah – in other words, before the hero of the story was even born. Whenever I’ve done Bible studies, I’ve tried to recreate my university experience, going to the same passages and books that moved me then. When I didn’t get the same warm fuzzy feelings I got in college, instead of realizing I’m just no longer the same kid who needed a sound, theological proof like the one laid out in Romans, and I should perhaps have picked a different book to study, I just get frustrated and decide the Bible and I just need a little distance from each other.

Of course, I still read the Bible. It’s just really not at the top of my PPP. It’s not the thing I prioritize most to learn about.  I certainly don’t spend as much time in God’s word as I do checking Facebook or the Daily Mail. The non-fiction book I read a little bit of every night is a parenting book, not my Bible. The information I dive into daily, after having perhaps glanced at a verse in a devotional, is my work email inbox.

It’s hard to admit how much the Bible has taken a backseat lately. It makes me feel unfit to lead this week’s lesson. And yet, it actually makes me more fit. Ironically, I know this because my favorite Bible verse tells me so. Of course, that isn’t really ironic, since the Bible truly is the most important book of all. I certainly wasn’t expecting to end this post with a Bible verse when I started it, but as always, with God, you have to expect the unexpected.

You see, in His usual fashion, God waited until I was in complete surrender and admitted my weakness before He reminded me that I’ve not been quite so disengaged from His word. In fact, the Bible verse that finally filled me with the assurance that I am more than fit to teach these Fifth grade girls is one that just came to life a couple years ago. It has touched my soul a thousand times recently and let me know that I am okay just as I am, warts and all. For Jesus assures us all that His grace is sufficient. Not only should I not be ashamed when I teach on Sunday, I should share about my weakness, knowing that God’s power will be even more perfect because of it.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’”

2 Corinthians 12:9

I pray that I will remember this verse on Sunday and that I can give these girls a real example of what it means to be a Christian. It doesn’t mean we always have to perfectly follow all the rules we learn at church. In fact, it means the opposite – that we have admitted and surrendered in the deepest parts of our souls that we are utterly incapable of living flawless lives. Christ’s light and all of our need for Him shine all the more brightly when we stop thinking we need to be perfect, little Christians and remember that being a Christian has one and only one stipulation – to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

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Humbled at McDonald’s in Canada

We are currently on vacation in my husband’s home country of Canada. And even though I’ve been here many times, there are still a few things that catch me off guard on every visit. For one thing, the Great Lakes are really, very great. How foolish I must have sounded when I asked my then-boyfriend if he had ever been to the beach, and then presumed to tell him it didn’t count because it wasn’t the ocean! The little island we went to on this trip had a sandy beach facing Lake Ontario. As I looked out at the endless water and watched the waves roll in, I was just as serene as I was last summer when we went to a “real” beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

This isn’t the only thing about Canada that humbles me. Every time I do the dishes here, I remember how most people do not have garbage disposals. It’s just not an appliance that has ever caught on here. People could afford them; they just don’t see the need. New homes don’t come with them installed. Apartments and townhouses don’t have them. But back when I was a know-it-all, twenty-something-year-old who discounted her boyfriend’s beach experiences, I also refused to accept the reality about garbage disposals and Canada. Surely, there was some sort of mistake, I thought. Maybe I just needed to say the right word – it’s “garburator” in Canadian, not “garbage disposal,” after all. And so, when I moved to Canada, I insisted we call every apartment complex remotely close to Toronto and ask if they had a unit for rent with a garburator. As you probably guessed, the answer was always the same. Flushing my cereal down the toilet and scraping plates into the trash weren’t totally new to me. I’d been to many countries before and even lived in France. I just had it in my head that the differences between Canada and the United States were not quite as big as this. As it turns out, the differences between our two incredible countries aren’t so big. Shockingly, a garbage disposal really isn’t an absolute necessity.

I’m not sure how something so small ended up becoming a catalyst for me to open my mind to new things and different ideas more readily, but it did. For years, if someone said something to me that seemed odd or different or unthinkable, I would just remember that life without a garbage disposal used to seem odd and different and unthinkable. Then I lived without one for three years and realized it wasn’t that big of a deal. My husband used to think it odd and different and unreasonable to insist, like I had, that a garburator hold the same level of importance as a refrigerator. Now that he has lived in the US for twelve years, he finds it odd and different and unreasonable for someone to live without one.

The truth is most things are only odd or different or unreasonable when they are foreign. Once you get closer, you see a bigger picture that almost always changes your perspective. You realize you’ve been looking through a mirror like the one on your car that says “objects are closer than they appear.” Life in Canada seemed so familiar I just assumed I fully understood it, but the truth is I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought. We make judgments all the time based on a warped view of the world. Things, or people, or races, or religions, seem just familiar enough that we think we can judge the differences we seem to perceive. But when we stop to listen to each other and imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we see that so much lies beneath the surface.

Back to our visit in Canada, as always, we went to McDonald’s for lunch one day. Before we went, we talked about how McDonald’s is different in other countries. I didn’t want the kids to overreact when they saw, for example, that in Canada, apple slices still have skin on them. But just when I was patting myself on the back for how enlightened and open-minded I am, five dreaded words betrayed me. They just spilled out before I could do anything about it. It was like I was in slow motion. I recognized what was about to happen but could do nothing to stop it. I meant to ask the cashier what came with a happy meal. Or what kind of kids’ meals they had. Or if the happy meals came with a burger, fries and a side like in the United States. But, no, instead, I said “Do you have normal happy meals?”

I was embarrassed before I finished the question. How could I have asked if the happy meals were “normal”!? I cannot identify any part of me that thinks in any way that anything is less “normal” in Canada than in the US, and yet, those words came out of my mouth! Of course, I had to make it worse by explaining that we were from the States. As if the sweet teenager taking our order hadn’t figured that out. What a great way for me to reinforce stereotypes that Canadians have of Americans! Of course I would think our way of doing things is “normal” and everyone else’s is “abnormal,” right?

After I got over my embarrassment, I laughed and lightened up and realized (again) that we are all just flawed human beings. The best thing we can do is listen to each other respectfully and then cut each other some slack. I sure hope that cashier does not honestly think I am so arrogant that I really consider only my experience to be “normal.” I hope she gave me the benefit of the doubt and realized I was just thinking about what is “normal” to me and didn’t mean the question the way it sounded.

As a society, we are so often and easily offended by innocent words that are not meant to injure but just represent a different perspective.

Words matter.
But more than words, intentions matter.
And more than anything, grace matters.

We have to extend each other grace to blunder and bludgeon through each day, because we also must rely on grace. We are all imperfect creatures in need of God’s perfect love and the grace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Because of this amazing grace, I am often humbled but never humiliated. Even as an American in Canada!

(As it turns out, in Trenton, Ontario, a “normal” happy meal comes with only one side. You get fries or apples, but not both. Also, the fountain drink cup is significantly smaller than the one you would get if you were to order a “normal” happy meal from a McDonald’s in Plano, Texas.)

Confessions of a Sporadic Church Going Jesus Freak

I have a confession to make.

Until this past Sunday, I hadn’t been to church in a while. Like, since April.

I love God. I love Jesus. I pray many times every day. I just took an unplanned, extended leave of absence from church.

And that’s not even what I need to confess!

What I need to confess is that I really worry what you think about it.

Even though I have worked hard to shake this whole people-pleasing character defect, I still really feel the need to please you. And so, I have to come out publicly (or at least on this blog) about my sporadic church attendance. I need to risk your disapproval so I can remember I only need God’s approval.

It all started with Love Lives Here Plano – you may remember I had a mental breakdown via blog post about this (https://seeingthroughthefog.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/love-lives-here/).

Well, the event turned out beautifully. Don’t get me wrong. None of our difficulties magically disappeared. The biggest room in the building we rented, where we had originally planned to have our evening program, ended up closed off due to low attendance. And we still haven’t figured out how to fully reconcile the budget, although God has worked some pretty awesome miracles in that area.

The bottom line though is that Love Lives Here Plano was perfectly imperfect and just what it was supposed to be. Even though a few of the workshops had to be cancelled, those that did go on as planned exceeded expectations. One workshop leader even thanked me for allowing her to participate in such a special event. She made a point to tell me how amazed she was at the honesty and transparency in her small group. The attendees echoed the speaker and shared that the workshops had a deep impact on their lives. I wonder if I would have these kinds of observations if each workshop had 30-40 women instead of 10-15.

Despite an ad on a major radio station, our vendors did not see hundreds and hundreds of women, but they were all (well, almost all) happy to be there. About half way through my obligatory purchase and apology to each proprietor, I realized it really wasn’t necessary. They understood you don’t always get the turnout you expect, and they all made sales. Even if it wasn’t what they’d hoped for, when I got out of my own way, I saw that they really were happy to be there. Most of them made significant connections with other vendors and participants that have continued to thrive and contribute to their business and personal growth well past the event.

The evening program was honestly one of the highlights of my life. Around eighty-five women total came, fifteen with free tickets we gave to a local crisis center. Serving these women was an unexpected blessing. As the keynote speaker, I delivered a twenty-minute speech and then led the participants in an interactive activity where everyone wrote at least one thing she wanted to let go of on a paper heart. Each table then ripped up their paper hearts and taped them onto a large puzzle piece. Volunteers gathered the puzzle pieces, and we fit them together on a large poster board at the front of the room. The end result was a picture of a large heart with a cross in the middle – a powerful visual that showed that when we give God our hearts, even when they are in broken pieces, He uses them to create something more beautiful and incredible than we can imagine.

When I gave my speech, I had one of those moments when you feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I knew it was good. I knew God was there. It was confirmed in my heart that speaking is one of my gifts. Afterwards, I got nothing but positive feedback – everyone said I was funny and had a good sense of timing. Many people came up to me in tears. Several of the aforementioned vendors, many of whom originally intended to come to Love Lives Here only to sell a product, were among the most moved. One woman just kept repeating the word “phenomenal.” I knew in that moment this would not be the last time I would stand up in front of a group and say similar words of encouragement, and I have already had the opportunity to speak part of the speech again.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with my break from church. Well, even though Love Lives Here came off beautifully, it still left me exhausted. And while that’s not an excuse to skip church, it is the first domino in a chain of events, emotions and thoughts that led me to where I am right now.

There were many things in my life that needed attention after being somewhat or a lot neglected while I had put on this event. I felt like I had been living a pretend life. Then, the week after the event, we got the call from my son’s teacher that turned our world upside down. All of a sudden, I went from event manager, public speaker and writer to mom of a “special needs” child. I thought this was God’s way of telling me to just let go of this dream. I couldn’t possibly have this extracurricular passion in addition to a full time job, marriage and children, especially now that one of those kids had to be carted around regularly to therapists and specialists. I couldn’t possibly spend time writing and speaking when clearly, I needed to spend any free time I had becoming an expert on neurological issues in children.

I now realize that God is so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. Of course, He would not put it in my heart to write and speak if I couldn’t somehow manage it along with everything else. In fact, He usually picks people who seem least able to do what He asks so that all the credit and glory goes to Him!

Nonetheless, for a while, I got lost. I fell into a depression that impacted more than just my church-going. If you read my blog regularly, you would have noticed there was a big gap in original posts between April and July.

I am excited to report that I went to church this past Sunday, and that I will be a regular attendee next year, as the Fifth Grade small group leader. I know that I belong in regular worship with a community of believers. We are not meant to do this thing called life and faith by ourselves. I have not been convicted that my sporadic church attendance qualifies as “sin,” but nonetheless I have asked for God’s forgiveness and am back in the habit. What God has convicted me of is that I really need to work on my continued obsession with how you perceive me. I was starting to feel like I had a dirty, little secret from my Christian friends, and I’ve learned the hard way that secrets are bad.

In closing, I really want to ask you to please not judge me, but well, that would just be perpetuating the problem. So please judge me all you want. I need to learn that your judgment is not what matters. I’m wearing a shirt I got at Love Lives Here that says “He Loves Me,” and that is all that matters.

From One “Good Mom” to Another

When my babies were born, I was one of those moms who just instantly felt comfortable. Instead of being crippled by worry about the baby or insecurity over my parenting skills, I was at total peace. Nobody was more surprised by my natural maternal instincts and calm demeanor than I was, especially considering how clueless I had been before. At my baby showers, it was actually comical how many gifts were met by my blank stare. Seriously though, why do so many things need to be warmed? Can I get a towel warmer for when I get out of the bath please?

As my kids grew older, my smugness and comfort with motherhood went out the window. All of a sudden, these babies that I knew how to take care of turned into actual people. They had their own personalities! They had their own thoughts. And those thoughts weren’t restricted to to “Give me your boob!” and “Change my diaper.” I know this, because they actually starting speaking their thoughts. OUT LOUD. I had NO idea how to even talk to these little creatures, let alone “raise” them, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

By the time my oldest started school, I was a hot mess as a mother. I questioned everything I did. I always thought I was somehow doing it wrong. I’d look at what all the other moms were doing and try to emulate them – all of them. If neighbor Suzy was using a behavior chart to mete out rewards, then we would get some poster board and create a behavior chart. If fellow room mom Cindy limited her children’s screen time, then we needed to limit screen time, and in the exact same way.

As you can imagine, it was quite impossible to do every single thing that every other mom around me was doing. It’s no wonder I was always falling short in my own mind and felt exhausted from all of the “mom guilt.”

A good friend of mine at the time had four children, ranging in age from five to fifteen. She was one of those “good moms” I was always trying to copy. When she came over with her kids and actually made them wait the recommended fifteen minutes after applying sunscreen (who knew?), a piece of me died inside because my kids were already swimming. Once again, that voice in my head told me this was just one more piece of evidence that I was a failure as a mom.

My perfect sunscreen-applying mentor challenged me to write about what I thought it meant to be a “good mom” as a way to work through my insecurity. I hand wrote out a first draft of my assignment, making sure I didn’t leave any behavior or attitude out. After all, this was going to become my playbook, or so I thought. I edited it, revised it, perfected it and admired it. I felt like I was back in middle school as I hand wrote the final version, like I was turning in a paper for an important grade. Then came the time to review the three-page single-spaced diatribe with Super Mom. I was so proud of myself, and I just knew she would be too! My essay describing a “good mom” was no doubt going to gain her approval as the perfect set of objectives.

I proudly read to her how “good moms” make sure their kids eat healthy, go to bed at a decent time, pray regularly and go to church. I explained that a “good mom” listens to her children, teaches them right from wrong and makes sure they bathe regularly. A “good mom” always sets a good example for her children, sets appropriate limits and helps them to become their best selves. She always sees the good in her children, never pushes too hard and is herself a “good” sister, daughter, Christian, wife, employee, member of society, and of course, she somehow manages to take care of herself as well. It took a while to get through it all.

When I was done, I looked up beaming, expecting my mentor to praise my efforts. I was seriously shocked to get an entirely different reception. All she said was “Wow. No wonder you never feel like you’re a good mom.” but the look on her face said it all. I did not get an “A” on this assignment after all. I had not hit the mark. My expectations of myself, even after I thought I had narrowed them down, were still way too high. I needed to scale back my definition of a “good mom” WAY more before I was even in the right ballpark. She suggested I think more in terms of the basic “essence” of what makes a good mom.

I was dumbfounded. How could I have so misunderstood the assignment? Isn’t it good that I got specific? What exactly did she have a problem with, I wanted to know. Isn’t it good to have high standards? Why shouldn’t I set the bar high for myself? Maybe instead of saying it was a description of a “good mom” I could just rename it to be my “ideal for parenting” and we could quit talking about it already.

But she wouldn’t drop it. When I argued, she argued back.

“You talk a lot about how one of the most important aspects of being a ‘good mom’ is leading your child to know God and specifically, the Christian faith. Does that mean that a Jewish mom is a ‘bad mom’?”

Well, no. Of course not. A Jewish, or Muslim, or Atheist for that matter, can still be a very good mom. I could think of examples of people I knew in all those categories immediately.

“What about the bathing thing? My youngest daughter absolutely detests baths, and I can’t remember the last time she got one. It seriously may have been a month. Does it make me a ‘bad mom’ that she doesn’t take a bath every night?”

This was really rather shocking to hear, but even with the knowledge that it may very well have been a month since one of her daughters had bathed, there was still no question in my mind that Super Mom actually was a super mom.

I thought about what it means to be a “good mom” some more. I prayed about it. I licked my wounds. I read The Glass Castle, a book that was recommended to me that tells a story of a far-from-perfect mom who ends up shaping her daughter into an incredible woman, because of both her weaknesses and her strengths. I thought about how the most “perfect” mom can end up with daughters who struggle with perfectionism their whole lives trying live up to her. And then, finally, one day, I realized Super Mom was right. I needed to seriously cut myself some slack.

And I was set free as a mom.

Here’s my new version of what it means to be a “good mom”:

  • Love unconditionally
  • Encourage your children to be themselves
  • Set limits
  • Teach
  • Try to be the best role model you can be
  • Trust your gut instincts
  • Know your children ultimately belong to God

This list was met with a very different reaction from my friend, but honestly, it didn’t even matter. I no longer cared what she thought. Through the journey, I had come into a new self-confidence that has yet to be shaken, even though it’s been several years since this exercise.

At the end of every day, if I can honestly look at the list above and say that I did my best trying to do those simple things, I know I am a good mom. No matter how many days it’s been since the last bath. No matter if we talked about God or prayed together. No matter when bed time ended up being. No matter how many cookies were eaten.

Even on days when the kids fall asleep in their clothes, without brushing their teeth, in my bed, after having swum immediately after applying sunscreen (gasp), I’m still a good mom.

Being a mom is hard. A lot of blogs have been written about how we all need to quit judging each other, but I think the real problem for most of us is how hard we are on ourselves.

If you’re struggling today with whether you’re a good mom, let me be the mom to help you simplify your expectations of yourself.

Do you love your child unconditionally, just as he or she is?

You’re a good mom.

Do you do your best to set limits and/or teach your child, even if things don’t always go exactly as planned?

You’re a good mom.

Are you trying your best and trusting your gut, even if it means doing something you swore you would never do before you had kids?

You’re a good mom.

We have so much less control than we often think we do. Let’s not spend the precious moments we have with our children worrying that we aren’t good enough. Today, I know I’m a good mom. Join me and let yourself off the hook too. You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

Secret #6: Be Present

Ironically, this post about being in the current moment is something I wrote six months ago. Our computer crashed (again) last month, and this time, I lost some of my writing that was just in MS Word documents. Hopefully you can overlook my hypocrisy here, because I really feel the need right now to have all the blog posts I have published anywhere in one place, that is NOT a local hard drive! Tomorrow, I promise I will start posting again about what is going on with me RIGHT NOW!

Be Present

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118: 24

The sixth and final secret to seek God is to be present.

Lately, it seems we are bombarded with messages about this very topic. Verizon had an ad campaign that featured the hashtag “#bepresent.” Over the holidays, American Airlines ran a great commercial with the tagline “This Christmas, enjoy the gift of presence.” As a society, it seems we are less “present” than ever.

When I am present – or focused on what is right in front of me right this second – I am closer to God. I put myself in a right relationship with God when I recognize that all I can really control is what I do in this moment. When I’m trying to do five things at once, when I’m obsessing about the future or the past, or when I’m escaping from reality through unhealthy habits, I make myself too big or too small. I forget about God.

Let me give you an example. Earlier today, I decided it was so critical to get this devotional written that I needed to do it while I walked the dog. I had the brilliant idea that I could dictate the post into my phone’s notes app! It was really going to be a beautiful devotional. I was going to start it off by telling you I had secretly made a New Year’s resolution to take walks, and that I wasn’t living up to it, but when I just remembered to “be present,” I realized that it didn’t matter because right in this moment I WAS taking a walk. Somehow, it sounded so much better in my head. I was going to wrap it up by talking about that American Airlines commercial and how you can’t have “the gift of presence” unless you experience the “presence” of the Holy Spirit. Seriously, you would have loved it.

Unfortunately, you will never get to read it, because as I was trying to be Super Woman, I missed something that was right in front of me, and it caused me to stumble, literally and figuratively. I didn’t notice that one of the sidewalk squares was quite a bit higher than the others, and I stubbed my toe. Hard. It was the kind of toe stubbing that radiates through your whole foot. And then through your whole body. And then makes you limp. And quit trying to be Super Woman.

From that point on, I awoke to the irony of my situation and decided that I would actually just try to “be present” for the rest of the day. At first, I had to really focus on what my five senses perceived to stay in the current moment. I realized it was a beautiful day! I heard birds chirping, felt the sun and wind on my face, and noticed how insanely cute my dog is. For the rest of the walk and after I got back home, I had to continually re-focus my thoughts back to the present. I was shocked at how many times I had to do this! I began praying to God to help me stay in the current moment. Instead of reaching for my phone, or Facebook, or some other distraction, I asked God to guide me and show me the next step whenever there was a moment’s pause.

I have heard many people talk about how life is best lived when you just focus on doing the “next right thing.” The trouble is sometimes I can’t quite figure out what the “next right thing” is. Is it to do the next load of laundry? To reply to the back log of emails in my Inbox? To play a game with one of my kids? Because I was so focused on staying in the present today, it was easier to pause, take a deep breath, pray for guidance and discern what the “next right thing” was.

God is in the now. He’s right here. Right now. He wants you to rely on Him one step at a time, one moment at a time. He wants you to “be present,” not because the word “presence” is a really cool word that can have lots of double meanings, but because when you live in the current moment, you let go of everything else. You have to. Every day, every moment, really is made by the Lord, as the Bible verse above states. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

The Ultimate Teacher

When I was a kid, teachers took role by calling each student’s name out loud. When you heard your name called, you responded with a loud “Present!” I don’t think any of us understood what the word “present” meant or why we said it. We just said it to let the teacher know we were there, because that’s what we were taught.

Ironically, this memory of saying something I didn’t fully understand helps me today to understand what people mean when they say be present.

Just like I said “Present!” to mean “I’m here!” in school, another way I know that I am present today is when I answer with an “I’m here!” when called upon.

For example, if I’m in a room with my family but off in my own world, I won’t answer right away with anything like an “I’m here!” if someone calls out my name. I’m not present even though my body is physically in the room. Similarly, I am not present on a spiritual level if I don’t respond when God calls me.

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”

Isaiah 6:8

What a beautiful verse! The next time I hear God whisper into the deepest parts of my soul, I hope and pray the words “Here am I. Send me!” come to mind. I know this hasn’t always been my first reaction to God’s calls.

Just like I can get distracted in the physical world by any number of things and miss what is right in front of me, I can easily miss that God is right in front of me. To truly be present on a spiritual level, I have to practice the other five secrets for seeking God:

  1. Be Still – Before you can answer God’s call with an “I’m Here!” you must spend quiet time with Him so you can recognize His voice and block out any other distractions.
  2. Be True – It’s impossible to be present if you are not comfortable in your own skin. You must first learn to be true to who you are, even if it is different from everyone else around you.
  3. Let Go – To be present – in a place where you answer “I’m here!” when God calls your name – you have to surrender everything in your life to God.
  4. Get Uncomfortable – Sometimes the places God asks you to go are so far outside your comfort zone that your immediate reaction is to say no. It is only when you realize the truth that transformation requires you to be uncomfortable that you can say “Yes! I’m here!” to God.
  5. Change Your Perspective on Pain – It is most difficult to be present when we are in pain. But when we change our perspective of pain so that we see it as a teacher, and as a path to spiritual progress and peace, we can say “I’m here!” to even the most difficult tasks.

In what areas of your life can you work to be more present?
Is God calling you to do something that you have yet to respond to with an “I’m here!”?

Being present doesn’t mean we say yes to every opportunity to serve that comes our way, but it also means we don’t always say no. It means that when we hear our teacher take role, we are awake and alert. And when our names are called, even if we don’t understand fully what we are saying, we respond as we have been taught and say “Here I am Lord. Send me!”

This post was originally published as a series of devotionals called “Six Secrets to Seeking God” on The Sisterhood’s website (http://www.tothemoonsisterhood.com).  

Secret #3: Let Go

I recently posted two blog posts with “secrets” for seeking God. These were part of a six-part devotional series I contributed to The Sisterhood blog. Because the third “secret” consisted of content I had already published here, I decided not to re-post it. I can’t very well just skip to “Secret #4” though, can I? That would be cray-cray. So, I am writing something new on the topic of “Secret #3,” Letting Go. Considering that it has been a year or more since I wrote what was published on The Sisterhood blog, this is sorely needed for me.

I originally wrote about how we hold on so tightly to things in this life, when we should just view them like waves of the ocean. We would never hold onto water, right? My previous post compared God to the ocean. Even though the waves change, when we stand in the shoreline, the water constantly swirls at our feet. Like the ocean, God is constant, even if the mechanisms by which He delivers His love change. It all sounded so good and beautiful.

But honestly, lately, it’s just flowery language and a nice-sounding metaphor. Since I wrote that post, I have had to let go of some significant things. I can tell you right now that I didn’t smile and think to myself, “Oh, how lovely! This feels just like water flowing though my hands! At least I can still feel water. It’s a different wave, but it’s still water after all. I’m so relaxed and at peace, just like I am when I’m at the ocean.”

Yeah, no. It felt more like being at Antarctica.

What I’ve had to let go of this past year pales in comparison to what many others have been through, but here is my list:

  • One very close friendship
  • The fantasy that writing and speaking could quickly become a high-paying job
  • Unbelief that I didn’t even realize was there about who Jesus is
  • Thinking that I could get rid of my severe adult acne without prescriptions
  • Needing other people’s approval
  • Many other things that I cannot mention, because they involve stories that are not mine to tell

In each case, I cried, or I fought it, or I got mad, or I did all three. In many cases, I continue to struggle through the process of surrendering these things. If I was to picture myself at the beach dealing with these issues, I would picture myself standing there bawling. Or screaming. Maybe with my arms raised in defiance asking “Why me?”

I can see intellectually that I have also gained so much this year. I see that God is always there, no matter what. I have felt His love constantly throughout every experience I’ve had. But it doesn’t make letting go any less painful. Sometimes life just sucks. People walk away and it hurts. You dream big and try big and get rejected. You have painful cysts all over your face, and nothing you do seems to make a difference.

Of all the things I had to let go of this past year, there is one thing I let go of that WASN’T quite as hard as the others. This past summer, when I was at the beach, I read a book by Jennie Allen called “Anything.” She implored her readers to really dig deep to see if they were willing to do anything for God. The whole time I was reading it, I thought “Yep, that’s me. I’m all in.” But then, as I read story after story of people laying it all on the line, sometimes even losing their lives, for Jesus, it hit me that I wasn’t willing to do the same.

I was certainly willing to surrender everything, even when it felt like being in Antarctica, to God, but I wasn’t sure I was willing to give everything for Jesus. As odd as that may sound, considering I was and still am a Christian, I had to let go of my intellectual understanding of Jesus and replace it with a surrender to Him on a heart and soul level. When I did that, I felt a peace and relief I had not known before. All of a sudden, it all made sense. Everything I’d been saying and writing and speaking about – that it’s okay not to be perfect, that brokenness is beautiful, that God is in everything, that everything is okay right in this moment – it’s all because of Jesus and what He did on the cross.

In 2016, I face so many new things I have to let go of. Changes will surely happen at work, like they always do. Relationships will continue to evolve, like they always do. I am sure something will be lost that I can’t even imagine right now. Right this second, the biggest thing I need to remember to surrender is Love Lives Here Plano, the women’s event on April 9th that I am working with The Sisterhood to plan. We are hoping to have 1,000 women attend. This is proving to be more challenging than I ever expected. Event planners already had my respect, but they now get even more. I’ve had to let go of many things related to the event, including who I thought would help plan the event, what the content would be, and how the event would be funded. I have not always let go of these things with grace. I know there will be more in the days and weeks to come that will be different than what I am expecting, and I continue to pray and give the event and everything related to it to God, asking Him to use it all for His purposes.

In all fairness, planning the event has also proven to be more rewarding and fulfilling than I ever could have expected, and I know it is going to be a phenomenal event. It just isn’t always easy to let go and let God run the show. In fact, instead of comparing letting go to the ocean, I think I might start comparing it to physically ripping open my chest and giving God my heart. That is what it feels like sometimes to surrender. Like I’m tearing myself apart and open for something that I cannot see. I may have gone a bit too far in the other direction…. I do have a tendency to be over dramatic.

Maybe, instead of making any comparisons or analogies, I just need to let things be what they are. “It is what it is” used to be an expression that drove me crazy, but now it is one of my favorites.

It is what it is. People walk away and it hurts. Someone who has never planned an event tries to bring a women’s conference to her city, and it is harder than she expects. No matter what, God is always there, through all of it. And because of Jesus, it’s all okay.

I am also speaking at Love Lives Here… and I’m speaking about Jesus! If you had told me ten years ago that I would be writing and speaking about Jesus, I would not have believed you. Maybe I would be talking about “my faith,” or “God,” or “spirituality,” but definitely not “Jesus.” I had told myself for so long that I was called to share with others about God without talking too much about “Jesus,” because my message might go over their heads, but really, it was because of me. I thought you might not be comfortable with “Jesus,” but really I was the one who wasn’t comfortable.

When I started asking God, on a daily basis, to make Jesus real to me on a heart and soul level, He did. Letting go of my old conception of Jesus Christ was easy, because the reality of His love and forgiveness soon flooded into my heart. Sort of like a wave of the ocean.