Category Archives: Faith

All things faith related.

A Prayer for the New Year – Giving it to God

Let’s be real. Sometimes prayer takes more effort than other times. Prayer is powerful, and connecting with God is important, even when it doesn’t flow naturally. As a long-time Christian, I can say from experience—sometimes we just need a little nudge…or a swift kick in the pants…to keep our prayer life rolling! I hope this can be that nudge/kick that helps point your heart toward God today. Wherever you may be on your walk with Jesus, this prayer is to offer to God during those moments when it’s hard to find the words.

Dear God,

Let me start by saying thanks. Thank you for family and friends, air in my lungs, a roof over my head, and a million other blessings that I too often take for granted. You are good all the time, and I acknowledge that fact and praise you for who you are. Thank you for sending Jesus to provide a way for us to draw near to you for eternity, and thank you for your constant presence.

It’s the beginning of a new year, and I admit I have mixed emotions. While I look forward to seeing all the good you’ll do this year, I also step into January with trepidation. Last year had challenges that left me still trying to catch my breath, and sometimes the future feels like a scary place. I give these conflicting thoughts to you, Lord. Take them and take my hand as I put one foot in front of the other into whatever this new year holds.

Lord, please bless my family, my friends, and me with good health. Remove any and all aches, pains, diseases, and ailments and replace them with your wholeness and wellness. Let your wisdom and provision cover all areas of concern related to health, and remove any fears I have in this area.

Please guide and direct my relationships in the coming year. I pray for authentic, supportive relationships and for any current or ongoing relational issues to turn in a positive direction and be wrapped in your peace and guidance. I pray for honesty, forgiveness, and joy to abound in each of my relationships, and I pray that my ultimate worth would be found in you and no one else.

Lord, please breathe life into my work this year. I pray that your hand would guide my efforts as I strive to do all things for you and for the ultimate good of those around me. I pray for clarity of mind and open doors as I seek you in all my endeavors over the coming months, and I pray that, in all I do, my desire would be to please you above man every time.

Open my eyes and ears to your guidance this year, and use me to make a difference in the lives of others. Let me draw near to you, be filled with your love and goodness, and overflow that love and goodness onto those around me in need of you.

Lord, please keep my focus on you in all things this year. Remind me of your good plans and give me strength to press ahead into the unknown. I may not know the future, but I take comfort in knowing that it is in your hands. You are the author and creator of all things, the perfector of my faith, and the source of all goodness and love. You are worthy to be praised.

Remind me to slow down in the busyness of my days to hear your still voice. Remind me not to rush ahead of what you’re doing and to trust your timing in all things. When I start to feel overwhelmed by the demands of life, I pray you would adjust my perspective and comfort me. I pray for abundant reasons to smile and laugh this year. Thank you for the gift of laughter.

I pray for the leaders of this country to lean into your wisdom and direction. Bless this land and its people, keep it safe from harm, and provide it with trustworthy leaders who seek you above all else. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I pray that your purposes and plans for this year would be accomplished and that I would partner with you rather than trying to take control. You are good. You are love. You are peace. You are more than enough. You are God. And I’m so, so grateful. I give it all to you.

Amen.

Strengthened by Gratitude

Sometimes gratitude comes easily. Sometimes it…doesn’t.

Gratitude. Thankfulness. Gratefulness. Appreciation. Call it what you want; the season is upon us, and it can often bring to mind the things we aren’t grateful for just as readily as the things we are. In a world full of war, sickness, and unfulfilled dreams, sometimes gratitude requires effort.

And that’s okay.

A quick online search revealed that gratitude is frequently associated with a “feeling” or “emotion.”  But do feelings really demonstrate the intent behind gratitude? I don’t think so. It’s easy to feel thankful when someone shows us kindness or things are going well, but how do we view gratitude when we’re in the thick of difficulty?

Lots of gratitude-centered Bible verses are found in the writings of Paul. If you’re not familiar with Paul, he authored more books of the Bible than anyone else and lived life boldly in order to spread the Gospel after Jesus ascended back to Heaven. But living boldly for Jesus back then was, uh, frowned upon, to put it lightly, which resulted in many of Paul’s most inspiring Bible passages being written from prison.

I’m no Bible scholar, but even Paul was human—he most likely wouldn’t have been feeling all that happy or thankful in his natural circumstances when he was shipwrecked or imprisoned.

Thankfully, Paul knew better than most that truth doesn’t depend on feelings. He refused to let his circumstances dictate his views on God’s goodness or the purpose of life or any of those complex issues we tend to question when life gets hard.

The Holy Spirit works within us on a supernatural level when we deliberately refuse to soak in our negative emotions and instead find things to be grateful for. And Paul knew it. He experienced it, and maybe you have too. Finding things to be grateful for, no matter our circumstances, is a great way to invite God to pull us out of our negativity spirals.

Sometimes gratitude flows without any effort at all, and in these wonderful times, we should soak it in and praise the Lord. But when praises don’t flow effortlessly, we need to pause and point our eyes to Jesus. What can he show us about who he is and what he’s doing in our lives? What can he reveal about his bigger purposes? What is he whispering to our hearts? Ask him, and then thank him.

God’s purposes are always greater than our own, even when they haven’t yet been revealed. Once our hearts are centered securely on him, our gratitude will flow whether we just won the lottery or we’re sitting in a prison cell, and his strength will fill us in new ways.

To quote author Ann Voscamp, “Gratitude isn’t only a celebration when good things happen. Gratitude is a declaration that GOD IS GOOD no matter what happens.” And God’s goodness has nothing to do with our feelings or perceptions. His goodness is a truth that cannot be rocked or changed, and that alone is something big to be grateful for.

Cultivating a grateful spirit is always worth it whether it comes naturally or requires extra effort… because God is always worthy. This season, let’s be deliberate to focus in on all the many blessings we have, big and small, and give thanks, keeping in mind that giving thanks doesn’t discount the difficulties we’re facing; it strengthens us to face them.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, American friends! 🙂

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Living in a Desensitized World

I’ve been watching Vietnam War documentaries off and on for the last few years. What started as book research became a personal drive to understand this war that took my uncle’s life and sometimes seems un-understandable. It’s gut-wrenching, yet fascinating.

Viewing dozens of hours of war footage (sometimes through squinted eyes to blur the images) has been an interesting psychological experiment. I am my own case study on desensitization.

As you might expect, I was much more shocked by certain scenes several years ago when I first began this Vietnam War journey than I am now.

Then: That field is completely strewn with bodies, and that village just got burned to the ground. How completely tragic. *wipes a tear*

Now: Another field is strewn with bodies. Another village got burned to the ground. Tragic, sure, but yep—as expected.

In the beginning, I viewed the brutal war footage with much more emotion than I do now, but eventually realized I’d never get through it if I continued feeling all the things. And so, I learned to shut out some of the emotion.

(Side note: I can only imagine being a soldier in the real situation. Becoming numb to death would certainly be a necessary survival tactic, and I have massive respect and appreciation for all who serve or have served in our military.)

Anyway, noticing this desensitization in myself has got me thinking.

Last week, my 11-year-old daughter came downstairs after bedtime. She’d been reading a kids book about France, and it had a couple pages about D-Day. Though not nearly as graphic as it could have been, there were a couple photos of bodies on the ground after the battle, and it bothered her. My husband and I are careful about what goes into our children’s eyes and ears (they have the whole rest of their lives to deal with the horrors of this world, right?), and it was her first sweeping glimpse at death.

The images in her book were “tame,” as far as war goes. But her sweet little mind is entirely unaccustomed to war and death, and I needed to meet her where she was, which I was happy to do. It was a big deal to her, as it should be.

God’s plan was never for our hearts to be forced to “toughen up.” He intended us to live in beautiful perfection. The way I see it, my daughter’s sensitivity to violence is closer to where God meant for us all to be. Growing up in this world naturally involves acquiring layers of mental armor so we can deal with difficulties without constantly feeling hurt, but this wasn’t God’s original intent. In case you haven’t noticed, this world is a far cry from the Garden of Eden, which is the paradise God designed us for. No violence, no death. Just beautiful, peaceful communion with God.

Today, violence is everywhere. Video games, online, the news, TV and movies, commercials. Graphic images have become so normalized that even some Christians consume them as if it’s no big deal.

As Christians, we all have to find the line between living in this world and keeping our eyes on Jesus. And everyone seems to draw their lines in a slightly different place.

The war footage I watch is for research and education purposes. I very much enjoy learning, but I’ll never enjoy the brutalities and death that is part of the package deal. Death is not fun. Death is not a game. And even if I’m a bit desensitized to death when it comes to documentaries, I’m positive I would not have the same blasé attitude toward a slasher film where death and violence are meant to entertain. In this day and age, not everyone who reads this will agree, but horror films seem like a pretty obvious opposite of fixing our eyes on Jesus.

I believe that when death is celebrated and embraced as entertainment, it makes us more and more comfortable with evil and opens doors to mold our minds to look more like the world. And since the Bible says that this world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), I say a big fat No thank you to things that are so clearly of this world but not of God’s.

Philippians 4:8 tells us to: “. . . Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy.” Scary entertainment choices fill people with anxiety and fear. (For those who argue that they don’t, studies I found during an internet search show that there is a physiological fear response to horror films even if not a mental one.) I would much rather listen to the wisdom of Philippians 4:8 and live with the peace of the Holy Spirit instead.

Sure, desensitization is necessary to some degree in order to survive our modern world. But I believe we get enough desensitization through daily life and education. When given a choice, shouldn’t we endeavor to think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy? Shouldn’t we aim for the goal that God intended for us all along . . . eternal goodness and glory?

And when in doubt (or to keep us from doubt), we should simply let the Holy Spirit guide us. He is faithful to lead, and we can hand him the reins to our lives and our choices with confidence and trust his voice. But it’s up to us to listen.

I know some will take issue with some of these thoughts, so if that’s the case for you, let me know what you think in the comments. Respectful disagreement is always welcome. I’d love to hear your thoughts either way!

Five Ways to Force a Pause and Focus Your Heart

Okay, maybe fall hasn’t technically arrived, but September 1st marks the beginning of fall in my mind. That’s when I bust out the fall decorations and apple spice candles and start mentally preparing for wiener roasts, changing leaves, and all things cinnamon.

Fall also marks our jump back into busy homeschool life. With three kids between 11 and 15, their subjects have gotten a tad more complex than in the early years, and juggling them all tends to max me out. Cross country and basketball take over our days, and meals become a quick sandwich between events. Throw my writing endeavors into the mix, and making space to breathe so that the day doesn’t swallow me up becomes not just optional, but essential.

Sound familiar? Maybe the events of your days aren’t the same, but busyness can quickly consume and sap us if we’re not playing offense. So let’s be intentional!

Here are five ways to force a pause and focus our hearts in the middle of a busy day:

  1. Take five first thing. I am not a morning person and would sleep until 9am every morning if it was an option—but it’s not. I know starting the day off on solid, peaceful footing is important, but that’s hard to do when you roll out of bed and immediately stumble to the stove to make breakfast for the fam (a typical scene at my house last semester…oops). When I’m deliberate to take just five quick minutes alone before exiting my peaceful bedroom, using that time to pray for the day ahead and get my priorities straight, it makes a world of difference in my focus and my attitude, which then is reflected in my kids.
  2.  Plan ahead for a longer time of solitude. Whether it’s ten minutes or two hours, plan out a chunk of time the day before to spend in a way that fills you up and lets your body relax. Dive into a new book of the Bible or a devotional, do some deep stretching, and pay attention to your breathing. Relax your shoulders and your forehead. (Odds are they’re tight right now, yes??)
  3. Phone a friend. Make a real phone call to a friend or relative who “gets” you. The chat doesn’t have to be long, but even a quick conversation with a loved one can do wonders in boosting our energy and mood.
  4. Sprinkle in 30 second pauses throughout the day. When you feel things piling up and your head is spinning, go into a different room (if possible) and quiet your mind for even just 30 seconds. Breathe deeply, pray for peace and strength, realign yourself with what God’s doing in your day, and then return to your tasks at hand. This is often enough to break the cycle of overwhelm that wants to take root.
  5. Crank up some music. Sometimes we can’t physically get away from our busy/stressful situations; at least not in the moment that we want to. At these (and other) times, I turn to music. Music has power and is proven to boost endorphins and make you relax. Worship music strengthens me and helps me get centered, but so can oldies and instrumentals. So turn on something that will fill you with positive messages and bring you joy while you’re in the thick of the busyness, and let it suffice until you can physically take a pause.

And of course, a quick silent prayer for peace and strength requires no alone time or special conditions whatsoever, so go ahead and sprinkle those throughout your entire day too. You’ll be glad you did. Your family will be glad you did. And God will certainly be glad you did. After all, he loves caring for and spending time with his kids. (Yes, you!)

How do you take time to pause during your busy seasons? I’d love for you to share your ideas in the comments so we can all benefit! 🙂  

The Price of Freedom…for Our Land and Our Souls

How was your Memorial Day? Did you enjoy a three-day weekend or a get-together of some sort? Maybe you wore your special patriotic shirt for the day or made your famous strawberry pie to kick off the summer. (Sounds like a good day to me!)

Along with all these fun things, I hope you were also able to slow down. To remember. To honor those who gave all so we could live our lives in freedom.

Memorial Day is personal to my family. We gather almost every year to attend the local service at the cemetery. Each year, my grandpa, who served in the Navy in World War Two and never slows down to this day, stands up front in uniform and participates in the traditional three-volley salute before Taps is played, echoing its haunting, beautiful tune across every ear and every grave.

Now that my kids are 15, 13, and 11, they don’t ask about the tears in my eyes anymore. They don’t have to. It’s expected. And it’s understood. They’ve heard my reasons before…and before that…and before that.

They understand that my dad’s oldest brother, David, was shot and killed serving with the Marines in Vietnam. They understand that he decided it was his duty to fight for freedom and that he died with honor. (Yes, this was a messy war, but its intent was worthy, and the soldiers who served will always have my honor and respect.)

My kids understand that my grandpa joined up during WW2 to fight for freedom. To stop the bad guys. He made it home alive, but his sacrifices were great overall—especially the sacrifice of his oldest son (David) as he died fighting against communism in South Vietnam.

They know my other grandpa fought in Korea, having to leave his new wife behind, pregnant with their first child. He made it home alive, but missed the birth and all the “firsts” that came with raising their first baby because he was off fighting hard for other people’s freedoms.

My kids understand that one of their other dear great uncles fought hard in Vietnam, though he did make it home in one piece. They know his sacrifices include living through painful experiences there as he fought for freedom.

They know that war is monstrous, but freedom is a cause worth fighting for. They know that soldiers are brave and worthy of gratitude and respect.

My kids know that when my eyes fill with tears, as they do every single Memorial Day without fail, it’s because my heart is too full of gratitude, appreciation, and memories to keep it inside. America truly is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and only by remembering and teaching upcoming generations these truths will it remain so.

How do the children in your life view Memorial Day? Do they slow down in between hotdogs and popsicles to pay respect to our nation’s fallen heroes? If not, it’s never too late to remind them of how we gained the freedom that enables us to enjoy a day off.

One last thing. During the annual Memorial Day service, the speaker often reminds us that freedom is paid in blood, and only by honoring the fallen can we truly appreciate all God has blessed us with here in America…

Sound familiar…? Freedom paid in blood…? Of course I’m beyond grateful for my American freedoms, but how much more grateful I am for the freedom that was bought for each and every one of us across the globe with Jesus’ blood on the cross. Spiritual freedom was paid for once and for all by Jesus and can never be taken away. Now that’s something to really remember and honor.

Who were you remembering this past Memorial Day? Let me know in the comments; I’d be honored to share these memories with you!

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