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Category Archives: Renewing Our Minds

Fighting “Still”—and Other Struggles of the Season

Fighting Still—and Other Struggles of the SeasonI am not very good at keeping still. In fact, I turn still into a such a multitasking event that I defeat its entire purpose. Last night, for example, I sat down to watch The Peanuts Movie with my youngest son, and I turned it into a moment of buying a subscription to a creation science magazine for my oldest child for Christmas.

I was always the child who had to play a board game with myself or work on a scrapbook project while watching television. Even when my friends would come over to play Barbies, I would sing commercial ditties or manage multiple tasks at once. Ask any one of my childhood friends, and she will tell you I drove her nuts! Being at rest is not a concept I have ever understood. I have always been driven and project-focused. The night of my bridal shower, I stayed up late for hours to make sure all thank-you notes were immediately written, stamped, and addressed.

For a long time, I chalked it up to an amazing work ethic. I was the ant of Proverbs 6—and proud of it!

Proverbs 6:6-9, ESV

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?

Right now, for example, I am writing an email reply to my mother while

–looking for dressy heels for my daughter at Famous Footwear online, 

–writing this article, 

–checking on the dogs, 

–and thinking about the school evaluation forms I have to fill out and promptly sign and return to special education office in the school district. 

I also might stop and wrap one present.

I might be productive, but I certainly am not focused.

What does still mean for you?

My still consists of the few moments Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Expectant Like Mary

Expectant Like Mary

This year, I made myself a promise that I would buy 95 percent of Christmas gifts before Thanksgiving. I’ve even managed to ship a few care packages and boxes of presents already. I think I learned from previous years that if I want a peaceful, Christ-focused Advent season, I have to be organized, planned, and efficient.

Two years ago, my father passed away on December 2. Advent was a blur. I don’t even remember if I shopped. This is a difficult time of year for that and other reasons, and I am choosing to spend December reading about shepherds watching their flocks by night, singing worship carols, and focusing on Immanuel, God with us. I want to create more family time, play board games, do a jigsaw puzzle, watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, The Christmas Story, and Elf. I can’t wait to cuddle my dogs on cold nights and breathe in Christmas candles and essential oils diffusing in every room. I look forward to my daughter baking cookies and filling the house with the delightful smells of Christmas.

I want to be expectant in my heart and soul, like Mary, mother of the Christ, my heart trusting in my God.

Luke 1:46-50, ESV

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

What about you? Did you anticipate the fun or the stress of last-minute grocery runs for the cranberry sauce, post-Thanksgiving cleanup, Black Friday shopping, crowds, traffic, and the tensions that can be both beautiful and stretch us taut when around extra family during the holidays? Did you put up your Christmas tree? Lights?

Is there anticipation in the air—or just weariness?

Whatever season you are in, wherever the needle on your stress gauge is at the moment: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Finding Peace for Stress Junkies Like Me

Stress Junkies Like MeStress has been piling up in my house of late. College application deadlines. New braces. Another (brief) parking lot accident. And add to that every major road leading out of my town is currently under construction. Yes, massive stress bubbling under the surface. It’s the kind of pressure that leads to hypervigilance.

Deadlines do this to me, especially life-course-determining ones. Anxiety used to be my roommate. I kicked her out a while ago and changed the locks, but once in a while she slips in through an unlocked back door. That girl knows no boundaries, I tell ya!

In the middle of one of those days, I took my son and husband to the airport for college visits (landing in rush hour traffic both to and from Boston) and made it home in time to get my daughter to dance, throw a nicer shirt on, and attempt to manage back-to-school night at the high school jumping between the schedules of a freshman and a senior on a massive campus. It felt like an episode of a teen sitcom as I rushed around trying to slide into each class before the bell rang.

So it was in my great hurry to arrive at the last class that I cut a corner down a hallway, and, to my great surprise, there was a low-to-the-ground, black end table next to a couch in the loft area between halls. I imagine high school students gather and are aware of the furniture there—but not me. I was not aware. It simply was not in my line of vision. I had Algebra I, Part 2 (whatever that is) to get to, where my friend teaches the class. What a nice way to end the long day, except for this: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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If Waves Could Speak

If Waves Could SpeakEarlier today I found myself standing with my toes in the sand staring out on the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean from the vantage point of Duck, North Carolina (Outer Banks). My cousins had generously shared their vacation with me, and my husband committed to the intense job of Mr. Mom in addition to his many other duties all week.

Considering we are in the throes of college application deadlines in our home, I couldn’t run for that airport terminal quickly enough! I left three kids, two dogs, two tree frogs, and three caterpillars behind. Begrudgingly, my husband took on frog duty, and I am happy to say that within two days, they captured his heart as he watched them hunt crickets and their little throats vibrate. (If you have not witnessed this, it should go on your bucket list!)

Our view is oceanside. With the sliding door set to screen, we can hear the waves crash to the shore. After days of high winds, we finally made it out to the beach.

With toes dipped in the water alongside my cousin, she offered me a precious memory of her mother, my late aunt, in the waves one summer. I thought about my children playing in the waves on many a beach escape. And if I really went deeper, I knew the waves knew so many of my secrets, dreams, memories, and emotions.

As the ocean water surged to a crest and then spilled over to crash, it looked as if it was responding to a hidden nod that it was time to bend and roll, with a delayed reaction in parts of the line but otherwise mastering uniformity in the landing. An invisible agreement. A knowing.

And I thought about what the waves would speak of, if they could speak about my own life, and what they had witnessed: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Bowing Low: The Message of Reconciliation

Bowing Low

Knock, knock, knock. Send her an email.

Really, God, we’ve been through this for years. I get the idea, I ask if it’s time, and You say, “Not yet.”

Yet.

And so it was, that still, small voice telling me what I already knew He would want me to do: I needed to reconcile with someone I had hurt and been wounded by—three years ago. Outcome didn’t matter. A response from the other party wasn’t the point. It was about who I am in Christ. If I truly am reconciled to God through His Son the Christ, then I must be a reconciler. There isn’t any gray area there.

Consider what the Apostle Paul says in one of his letters to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21, ESV

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul makes it very clear that when God made us a new creation, He “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

It’s not a choice or an option, really. Once we are new creations, it’s part of the deal.

And let’s be honest: That is wicked uncomfortable in theory, but God is with us(Immanuel) in practice. When it was time, after three years of healing and asking God to confirm it, it was as natural as sliding on my flip-flops.

Why is that? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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10 Ways to Recognize Safe Counsel

10 Ways to Recognize Safe CounselThere are people in my life who have earned the right to be blunt, honest, offering constructive criticism and feedback, and I receive it because of history, trust, love, and mutual understanding.

On the other hand, there are other folks who regularly cross that line and yet have not earned that place in my life or space in my head. I may love them deeply, but they speak from insecurity, negativity, and/or a lack of self-control. They are not voices God wants me to let in.

Along those lines, I frequently tell my children:

“People who put you down do not deserve space in your head and heart. Be kind but don’t engage. You are worth more than the voices of insecure speakers in your life—and I am too.” 

It’s a hard call at times, isn’t it? We should be open to feedback, but some folks are not healthy enough to offer it safely.

Know what I mean?

As I “grow up” in Christ, I am learning more and more that there are some voices I need to shut out and others that should be let in. I am growing in the discipline of asking God first: “Lord, she is saying this. Is this true? Is it from You? Should I take heed or put through Your filter and discard?”

God loves us so incredibly as a parent that He wants us to hear correction safely, gently, and with grace. And voices that don’t reflect His tender care need to be checked in with Him. For that matter, all voices do. Sometimes I have been caught in the web of someone’s honey offering when really they were simply waiting to build trust so they could crush it with unkindness.

Because we lack the ability to see other people’s motives, we must consult God and trust in His protection.

One of my favorite Proverbs on this topic is the entirety of Proverbs 4, a beautiful message written from King Solomon (son of King David) to his sons. Consider the wisdom here. There are at least 10 amazing guiding principles in the way the father counsels his children. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Prayer from Dirty Bath Water

Praying from Dirty Bath WaterI watched them approach the shrine, bow, ring the bell, toss a coin, and clap. Somewhere in there, they made a request—a wish, really—for a good medical test result, getting into the right school, a worry about one of their children. I was struck by how much my Western mind and heart did not connect with how they offered their pleas. I understood the heart behind it—but not the actions.

But I wasn’t raised in Japanese culture.

My host family and I had many conversations about this around the dinner table. I wanted to understand at which point their “faith” held on, tangibly grabbed belief, and grew expectant. Twenty-four years and two degrees in Asian languages and culture later, and I’m still not sure. But I do know that it opened a door to rich conversations and some understanding between us, and I came to learn that rituals and gestures at the shrine were more about respect than faith. Ringing the bell was to get the attention of the god of that shrine.

Why is Jesus not found at a shrine?

Do we not have rituals we must perform, like money and hand gestures, to conjure His attention?

And, what on earth do you mean, ふいつげらるど-さん (Fitzgerald-san, or Miss Fitzgerald, my maiden name) about talking to God in your bath water?

Bath water? In Japan, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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