Let Me Love the One

Posted by Janelle Webber on

I occasionally serve on our church worship team. Part of the process for me includes practicing the selected songs, printing out the lyrics and finding a possible part to sing. On one recent week that I was to serve I went to the website to begin working on the music. I was pleasantly surprised...

Shifting Focus

Posted by Zach Baum on

After the holidays, I’m finding our home is filled with stuff. There are piles of new things and the boxes they came in. On top of that, we also have a little baby girl arriving soon. There's so much to get and so much to do! This leads to my wife and I planning how we will get rid of the...

Live Love

Posted by Alane Pearce on

As the new year approaches, it’s customary to reflect on your life and look to the future, setting goals about how you want to live the next year. I don’t know about you, but each year setting goals only gets me so far. I have great ideas about what I want to accomplish, but in...

Let Me Love the One

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I occasionally serve on our church worship team. Part of the process for me includes practicing the selected songs, printing out the lyrics and finding a possible part to sing. On one recent week that I was to serve I went to the website to begin working on the music.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover a song I’d not heard for a very long time had been selected. It’s a beautiful song sung by Jenn Johnson. It’s message is sweet and the words are poetic. Phrases like, “Let me be filled with kindness and compassion for the one, the one for whom you love and gave your Son. For humanity increase my love.”

As I listen to and digested these words, singing them in my car as I drove home or during my lunch break, I thought, that’s it - this will indeed be my prayer for 2019. I was excited. I had been trying to find a theme for the year to focus on. This theme was so fitting for the times we are living in when love is often based on appearances. We judge need and people by how they look, where they live, the words they say, and the job they have or don’t have. I asked God to increase my love for humanity.

When I arrived at rehearsal for worship team later that week, I discovered that the song was no longer on the schedule. I was a little sad as I thought about those stirring lyrics that would not be sung that week. The congregation would not hear, “Help me to love with open arms, like you do. A love that erases all the lines and sees the truth. So that when they look into my eyes, they would see you. Even in just a smile, they would feel the Father’s love.”

Those thought quickly fled and I moved on. I figured a better, or more fitting song for the week had been chosen.

The rehearsal moved forward. A time of devotion and prayer starts us off. This particular week one of our worship leaders shared with the group something with which she had recently been challenged. She wanted to challenge us as well. It was quite simple actually yet it had the potential to be life changing. She simply asked, “If you had no fear, what would you do in 2019?” 

She looked around at the faces in the group and repeated the question. I hoped she’d not planned for volunteers to share as my mind was blank. I egotistically thought to myself, “There’s not anything I am not doing because of fear.” 

I was so very wrong and God was about to make that very clear to me.

I decided to continue to sing “For the One” even though it was off the schedule. It was going to be my 2019 theme after all and I loved the words, “Oh how he loves us from the homeless, to the famous and in between. You formed us, you made us carefully, ‘cause in the end we are all your children.” That would be how I’d live my life. It didn’t occur to me yet how much I needed to change.

During my lunch break the following day, I was humming these words as I drove to a shopping area near my work. As I approached a major intersection to make a left hand turn, there he was.  He stepped off the curb and began walking amongst the cars as they waited for a green light to complete their turn. He held a sign, a sign such as we have all seen—usually made from a tossed piece of cardboard. As I glanced at him, not wanting him to see me looking, I saw the typical words:

  • Hungry
  • Baby
  • Help
  • God Bless

An old recording from my past played once again, “Don’t give them money, they just want to buy drugs or alcohol. It’s better not to give them anything if you don’t have food to give.” I had once heard this from a director of a homeless shelter. It had been my mantra every time I saw a panhandler. I kept my eyes focused forward and drove past.

He had a slight limp and was dressed in ill-fitting clothing. I noticed he worn a winter hat and his sign dropped to his side as he walked back toward the intersection to wait for the next group of cars. He appeared to have not been very successful in his collection attempt.

As I drove through the stoplight, making my turn, some of the words I had been humming  popped into my head. “Oh how he loves us, from the homeless to the famous and in between. Let me be filled with kindness and compassion for the one, the one...the one for whom you love and gave your son.”

I was stunned. What had I just done? I began to make excuses:

  • It is too late now.
  • He probably doesn’t even have a baby.
  • He might even have a job.
  • Maybe his next stop is the liquor store.

How wrong these thoughts were, and that and there was something completely wrong with this picture.

What was wrong was me.

Later that day, as I drove home from work, the image of the man and his sign came back to me and wouldn’t let go. That’s when it all came together. That was my fear and it would keep me from loving humanity like God does. I was so unkind and lacking compassion. How could I love those lyrics, commit to loving like God, and yet do nothing when I saw the man and his sign?

As tears welded up in my eyes, a list of fears poured into my mind. I was afraid of:

  • Looking foolish.
  • Being taken advantage of.
  • What others would say.
  • What they use the money for.

All very real and very ridiculous. Was the man today really looking for food or a fix? Did he have a baby? Was he sincere or guilting with “God bless”?

It.

Didn’t.

Matter.

One might think God had finally gotten his point across to me. He was not quite finished.

In the church lobby the following Sunday he brought to my attention all the serving opportunities coming up for Winter Relief. I couldn’t miss the large display of information pamphlets. I took one home. I will be volunteering.

Again God was still not finished with me. On the following Monday, as I did my morning Bible reading, I landed on Matthew 25:45. Here Jesus is speaking in parables to the crowd and explaining what it will be like when we are before the king at the final judgment. Talking about himself he said “...‘ I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”

I had refused to help. I had refused to help Jesus. How does 2019 change starting out like this?

I change by taking action. Feeling my fear and doing it anyway. Seeing Jesus in the eyes of everyone. It changes when I stop judging the worthiness of those in need.

Maybe these are your fears, maybe not. Whatever your situation, I challenge you too - what would you do in 2019 if you had no fear? Maybe you think fears are no problem like I did at that night at worship team rehearsal. Think about it, pray about it and see what God shows you. He just might have a plan to change you in ways you didn’t even realize needed changing.

 

Slowdowns on the Road of Life: U-Turns, Side Roads, and Traffic Circles

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Sometimes in life our courses are shifted in directions we did not anticipate. We plan and plan and plan, but no matter how mapped out our route may be, we undoubtedly hit a few bumps along the way, and oftentimes get set off the course entirely. I call these unplanned moments in life “U-Turns”, “Side Roads”, and “Traffic Circles”. It may seem like we’re lost in these moments, but I’d like to suggest a different perspective.

If you take the first letter of each of those words you get UTSRTC. That likely makes no sense to you right now, but I’ll explain how it can be looked at from a different perspective a little bit later to find a hidden meaning. But before we get there, let’s break down each of these moments, and explain what it looks like in our lives.

U-Turns

Sometimes on the road of life, it feels like we start going backwards, or at least like we’re going back to somewhere we’ve already been. Sometimes it feels like we've got a point that we just can't get past, and no matter how hard we try, we keep getting stuck there. Sometimes we’re on our way at full speed, and then life throws a wrench in our plans, bringing us to a screeching halt, seemingly making us lose all of the progress we’ve just made. Other times it’s like a point that we reach over and over, but something (or maybe someone) keeps pulling us back. Or, maybe it’s a decision that we keep coming to, and we struggle to make the choice that moves us past where we keep stopping. Whatever it is, it can be difficult to figure out how to get past these points in our lives.

I call these moments “U-turns”.

Side Roads

When we’re out on our way to a particular destination, sometimes we find ourselves making what feel like “wrong turns”, and it may feel like we’re driving off the beaten path, so to speak. Many times in life it seems as if, even if we’re still moving towards our end destination, we’re either not quite sure where we are, or we’re worried because it feels like our arrival time keeps getting pushed back. Things just seem to not be going according to plans, and we get irritated because the paths we mapped out are not where we currently are. We plan and plan and plan, but it always seems like we hit detours, often times sending us off into the unknown and uncontrollable. These “detours” can be really frustrating, especially when it feels like we’re now headed in the totally wrong direction.

I call these moments “side roads”.

Traffic Circles

With the U-Turns and Side Roads, even though they can be confusing, and we might feel lost, at least we still feel like we’re still moving. However, there are other times in life where we just feel like we’re stuck in an endless loop, never really knowing when we’re going to get out and get going, and sometimes so dizzy from the circling that it feels like we could get sent in a million different directions. Sometimes we've been going around so long, it seems like we'll never get out and get back on track. And even if we did, we've lost sight of which way to go. Maybe these times have been caused by something out of our control, while other times our inability to choose a path has us running in circles trying to figure out which way to go. Another thing that tends to happen in these moments is that we spend so much of our time looking out, trying to figure out which exit to take, that we take our eyes off what's “inside”. We’re so busy looking out, that we never stop and look in.

I call these moments “traffic circles”.

Lost? Or Just Redirected?

Now that we’ve defined these three moments in life when our plans change, we have to decide how we’re going to view them, and then what we’re going to do about it when it happens. For a large majority of people, we like control. We like the feeling that we’re in charge, and when we can’t control something, we typically have one of two responses: fight or flight.

So, when these situations come up, how do you normally respond? Do you spend all your time and effort focused on fighting back, or “road-raging” so to speak? Do you find that when you get stuck, you start blaming other people, situations, and sometimes even God? This is an easy tendency for us. When we lose control, we try to shift the blame away from ourselves. The problem is, we’ve been behind the wheel the whole time, and we’re the only ones to blame. We have no reason to get upset about where we end up based on the choices we’ve made. Granted, things don’t always go as we planned, but we’ve still had to react to our circumstances, and ultimately we make our own decisions. If we’ve been in the driver’s seat, then only we are to blame. Not only can these responses make our situations worse, but often this leads us to hurt those around us. We blame them, or let out our frustration on them, and our “passengers” – those going along life with us, who were never in control of the wheel – they take the brunt of our frustration merely because of proximity.

Other times as a result of uncomfortable situations we try to flee. We don’t know where we are, so we panic and make rash decisions. We make hasty choices in an effort to just get out and go anywhere but where we currently are. The problem is, this usually leads us to get even more lost. It also usually causes us to ignore those around us, which can be just as hurtful as getting angry with them. Usually those closest to us are just trying to help guide us along, and we either ignore them completely because we are so worried about where we’re going, or we don’t take their advice and make our own irrational decisions. And as we get more lost, we get more and more stressed out, sometimes to the point of losing total control and ending up in a wreck on the side of the road, or so lost we feel hopeless of ever getting back on track. 

Choosing Your Path

So, what choice are you going to make the next time you find yourself in one of these kinds of situations? Are you going to panic and flee? Are you going to get angry and blame others? Or, are you going to try a third option?

This third option I’m talking about brings us back to the letters in the beginning: UTSRTC. I told you there was a hidden meaning there. Have you figured it out yet?

If you rearrange the letters, one possible combination ends up being TRUST C, or as I see it, TRUST Christ. If you can learn to not react as you normally would and instead trust Him, then things will turn out a lot better for you. All you have to do is give Jesus the wheel (aka, the control)!

If you’ve ever been a passenger along for a ride, when you’re not the one looking at the map or worried about directions, then for the most part, no matter which way you go, you generally trust that it’s right. It can be the when we trust Jesus. While it may seem scary to give the wheel up, once you relax and realize that he will take you exactly where he wants you to go, then you’ll realize that there’s nothing at all to worry about. However, there’s still some effort on our part, and it’s not as simple as just giving up and letting whatever happens, happen, saying that it is “God’s will”. We still have to hold the wheel. But, like a GPS, if we ask him to, Jesus will be with us every step of the way guiding us to our destinations in life. We still have to step on the gas, and we still have to turn the wheel, but when we are guided by his direction, then we know that every move is taking us exactly along the path that God has planned out for us. We may not always understand where we are going or why, but if we trust, then we know we are always headed in the right direction. 

Letting Go

For many of us, control is everything. I know that in my own life, this is completely true. I’ve had to trust God that he knows where I’m supposed to go, and what I’m supposed to do. Giving up control of the wheel hasn’t been easy, and oftentimes I take it back and think that I have a better way. But I have learned that there’s a certain peace in not having all the answers. There’s a relative calmness in knowing that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, even though the unknown is always all around me. It’s hard to listen, especially when the world is buzzing and telling me where it thinks I should go. But if I quiet myself and listen, the still, small voice of Jesus is there, guiding me ever onward towards the destinations that he has placed in my path. I don’t have to know where all the stops are, I just have to know that Jesus is moving me onward on my journey, stopping where he wants me to stop, driving past where he wants me to drive past, and meeting people along the way I never would have ever planned to on my own.

If you trust Jesus and let him guide you, your life will happen exactly as it should, and you will be ever more attentive to the beautiful destinations of a perfectly planned journey.

So let go of the control, open your eyes, and breathe in every moment. I promise, it will be worth it!

 

 

 

 

The Joy, The Pain, and The Art of Blending

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Typically, when a man and a woman get married, there are only two lives that are being joined together in holy matrimony. It is a challenging and daunting task to weave two separate lives intimately into one, but it is rewarding as a couple begins to learn and grow together.

The Bible says, Genesis 2:20b-24, “But, for Adam no suitable helper was found. So, the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

It is after there has been a time of getting to know each other and how to navigate life as a couple that children are conceived and brought into the family. Transitioning to parents from newlyweds is not an easy adjustment.

But, when a man and a woman get married and bring their own children into the holy union, it is even more complicated. Not only must the husband and wife learn how to become one as a couple, but they must learn their new roles as stepparents and co-parents. Many times, along with those new relationships comes a new home, possibly in a new state. Not only is the marriage new, but parenting is brand new in an unfamiliar place. This exciting time in the newlyweds’ lives can become overwhelming, stressful and uncertain. Thankfully, God’s hand is always in His plans and He can bring peace and blessings in the chaos.

I once read in Reader’s Digest that there are ten occurrences in your life that can cause overwhelming stress - death of a family member, marriage, pregnancy, illness, job change, incarceration, new home, strained friendships, success, and moving – and they recommend to avoid having more than two happen in a year’s time. I wish I read that when I was younger. Within five months, I got married, quit my job as a teacher to become a stay at home mom and moved into a new home 1300 miles away from the only place I had ever lived in 27 years. And 12 months later, I was pregnant. Talk about stress. I was in the stress Olympics!

When Rick and I met online in 1999, it wasn’t as popular as it is today to meet strangers on the internet. The unknown of chatrooms and IM-ing was a bit scary. But, living 1300 miles away from each other, being single parents with jobs and responsibilities and only having email, IM-ing and phone calls to communicate allowed us to get to know each other more intimately. We sent pictures and cards but did not get to see each other until seven months after we first met online. Rick hadn’t planned on proposing that whirlwind weekend we spent in Maryland and Texas meeting each other’s families and friends, but we got engaged and were married five months later. For two 20-somethings, it was an amazingly crazy and exciting time. For our children, it was amazing, crazy, exciting and life changing.

My son prayed daily for nine years for a Daddy and siblings. He desperately wanted a family. When I spoke to him about Rick after we had been talking for three months, he was excited. He loved talking to him about football and Texas. He was thrilled about the idea of being a big brother to Rick’s daughter and son. Before Rick proposed, he spoke with my son to get his permission to marry me and permission was given gladly. He asked if he could call Rick “Dad” once we were married and could not wait to move to Texas.

Rick’s daughter and son had gone through the divorce better than most nine and five-year olds. They adjusted well to moving in with his parents while he adjusted to being a single parent and seeing their mother two weekends a month and during the summer. They both expressed the desire to have a family again and were cautiously happy when we were introduced. They were eager to have another sibling, a new house and a mother who lived with them full time. Requests to call me “Mom” came after our engagement was announced and we started writing letters and talking on the weekends they were home.

When we all got to see each other in person, it was like being back home, with family, not like being in the same place for the first time. It only took a few minutes for the children to be in the back seat of the car together before they started bickering like siblings, falling asleep on each other on the hour ride from the airport. They giggled in the bedroom as they fell asleep and spent the next two days playing and enjoying getting to know each other.

But, after the wedding, honeymoon and four-day road trip moving our lives from Maryland to Texas, it was evident that navigating this new life together was going to be messy, complicated and hard. Each of us had a new place to fit into that didn’t always make sense or feel right.

I was trying to figure out how to be the perfect wife and mother. It was a big adjustment to go from single mom of one to married mom of three. Having a husband was wonderful, but after taking care of the children all day, I found myself exhausted and struggled finding time to spend with Rick before heading to bed. We were a busy family with school, sports, church and family gatherings. Rick was busy with a new promotion, but was at every practice and dance event, helped lead the children’s ministry at church and co-hosted many family get togethers. There was also the dynamic of being so far away from my family and my son’s biological father while trying to figure out how to include Rick’s ex wife and her family into the children’s lives.    

It was a delicate balance that we did not always get right. If we didn’t have his children for the weekend and Rick was working, I made sure I spent extra time with my son who was adjusting to a huge move and a different family dynamic. If Rick wasn’t working, we would spend time with my son, but also carve out time for a date night. During Christmas break and the summertime while the children were spending time with their other parents, we made sure to take trips and do things to strengthen our relationship as husband and wife. It was challenging to do that when we were with the children 24/7, so we enjoyed the breaks.  

We also experienced challenges in parenting since our children were 9, 9 and 5 when we got married. We had different parenting styles and it was very evident as we tried to figure out how to discipline and train children who already had established ways that they best reacted to discipline and training. We thought we talked a lot about how we would raise them and any future children, but we found ourselves disagreeing especially when it came to our own children. I had way more grace for my son than for my stepchildren. My son rebelled if disciplined in public, responding better to quiet and private rebuking. All Rick had to do was raise his voice to his daughter and she was repentant. The 5-year-old just needed a swat to get back in line. But as we disciplined them differently, we received flak from family members and the exes. It was difficult to establish rules for our home when those rules were not the same at their other houses or when with other family. Rick and I started to look at each other as enemies instead of partners and it was easy to be resentful or frustrated.

We had to have hard conversations about what our motives were in our discipline for each of the children. We spent hours in prayer and in counseling with our pastor. We searched God’s Word during our devotional times as a couple and privately. We apologized when we got it wrong and rejoiced when we got things right. We were a united front when questioned by family members and biological parents. And we modeled Biblical parenting to the children.

God was gracious in our growing pains. As we followed godly principles in child rearing and our marriage, we had peace in our home and in our marriage. Even though there is great wisdom behind God’s design for marriage to come first then children, His mercy and guidance allowed us to become a family. And as we added more children, we continue to seek God as we parent two unique children who are growing into incredible, responsible, creative young adults.

Depression Today...But Hope For Tomorrow

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Depression. Do you have it? I do.

It’s spreading like a virus in our society. It is no respecter of person, or position, title, gender, income, or opinion. It takes hold of a person and darkens their eyes so they can’t see anything but despair. Sometimes it’s circumstantial, and other times it’s biological.

And I haven’t escaped its grip.

It has been a really tough season in my life. And there’s a real possibility that I’ve been dealing with depression for longer than I previously knew. Then with the holidays just passing, life hasn’t been any easier.

For me, depression steals away happiness and joy, replacing it with hopelessness. It’s dark and scary. Others like myself, live with “walking” depression which means that I carry a heavy mental and emotional burden that triggers here and there while I’m at work, driving home, doing homework, and spending time with friends.

Then it strikes. It’s like swimming with weights on your ankles and treading water where you feel like you’re on the edge of drowning, struggling to breathe and survive let alone swim. It doesn’t take much of that to bring me down and make me feel isolated, even if I’m not.

Most of all, it’s exhausting.

When you follow Jesus, depression gets even trickier. It messes with what you thought you have always known, and it makes you doubt what God is able to do. 

Here’s what I mean:

  • I know that God has a plan for my prosperity (Jeremiah 29:11), but it’s not going to look the way you’d expect.
  • I know that God gave us the ultimate gift, but people in my life are going to be selfish and inconsiderate.
  • I know God loves me, but these broken relationships aren’t healing.
  • I know God won’t let me fall, but that doesn’t protect me from facing some really hard challenges.

Do you see the trend? God gives us so much, and yet depression can rob you of everything good in your life. I don’t have the perfect outlook on everything, but reframing the situation is starting to give me a new mentality. It might help you too, if we can embrace it.

  • God has a plan for our prosperity, and today, we are one day closer.
  • God gave us the ultimate gift, and today, our gift from God included waking up with breath in my lungs.
  • God loves us, and the friends around us right now have been chosen specifically for our benefit.
  • God won’t let us fall, and He is with us always, even today.

Personally, I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” solution to depression. Just like there is also no fixed way to serve the Lord. Paul in the Bible talks about different gifts and using them to the glory of the Lord. I’m learning that being a “good” Christian doesn’t necessarily mean that I am working in a church building. Likewise, people living with depression have different levels of depression that shows up in different ways. Fighting the depression also looks different for different people. 

The one idea that God has been pouring into my heart is this idea of “today”.

It’s not too hard to look at my life and circumstances to think the worst and instantly become depressed. Then I remember that the situation looks the way it does only today. And what happens tomorrow? Today, I’m depressed. It’s hard to get out of bed. It’s hard to work on projects, schoolwork, chores, and finishing tasks. But tomorrow is a new day, and there is a hope that something will change. If nothing else, I am certainly closer to seeing something change. 

This hope for a better day is strengthened by Bible. Romans 5:5 says, “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

That’s what realizing this idea of today means to me. It means that I can hang on for tomorrow. I can go on living to see something happen that can change circumstances because God has given us the Holy Spirit. 

Depression today? Yeah. Hope for tomorrow? Even more so.

Confessions of a (Recovering) Control Freak

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My husband is retiring from the military after 32 years of active duty service. This is a big step for both of us. He hasn’t had to apply for a job since he was in high school. And since we’ve been married, he has always known what he was going to do and when he would get promotions. We haven’t really had to worry about our future. Until now.

As for me, I’m a “recovering” control freak, which is a weird trait for a military spouse. But when things get stressful or uncertain, I default to, “If I can control all the things about this, then everything will be okay.”  So, in this journey of my husband transitioning out of the military and into his next position as he continues his career, I have been trying to control freak it. Every day I was trying to gain control of the unknown by asking him if he took this step, or called that person. And I could tell I was stressing him out.

I finally decided that I needed to talk with God about it. I remember the day well. “Lord,” I said, “he is just not doing the things he said he wanted to do. He is stressed out and this is new territory for us. But God…what if he doesn’t get a job after he retires?”

Immediately I felt the Spirit say, “Do you think I can’t take care of you?”

I don’t always get immediate answers from God when I pray. Sometimes I don’t get answers at all. But I have found that when I am earnestly seeking him, or if my thinking needs to be straightened out, sometimes I will feel an answer from him like I did that day.

When I felt that answer, I took a sharp breath in. Yes! I thought. That’s right! God will take care of us now, just like he has taken care of us for all these years.

At that moment, my worry and angst disappeared. I no longer had to ask every day if my husband was taking care of things. Instead, I prayed each day, lifting my husband up in prayer. And instead of pointing out what my husband was or was not doing, I was able to talk about what God was teaching me; that he is still in control and has a good plan for us. We started agreeing that we just needed to look for what God was doing and follow his lead.

We still don’t know what my husband will be doing after his retirement. But we do know that God has been showing us some potential paths. We know that he has a specific plan for us. And we know that God will reveal that plan to us as we follow his lead, pray, and stay in relationship with him.

Now I am constantly reminded to live the truth of Isaiah 30:21, Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  I don’t have to know the path forward because I’m listening to the one who is showing me where to walk. He knows the way forward, and I trust him to show me.

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