Dream

It was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and I hadn’t slept yet. I stared at the ceiling, weighing pros and cons of a major pending decision – where to get my master’s degree.

I rehearsed the countless variables and possible outcomes; I recalled the details of the diligent research I’d done; I reflected on the conversations I’d had with many people who had done what I want to do, who had been where I am going, weighing their advice carefully. Between making my own guesses about what would be the most practical and affordable choice, I asked the Lord to reveal His wisdom and will.

Not getting very far, I tried to focus my mind elsewhere, hoping to relax enough to finally fall asleep. I was almost there when a thought was emblazoned in my mind. I came to and wrote it down because I didn’t want to forget it by morning.

Too often I dream too small because I think God is limited by dollar signs. He isn’t. He has a way of providing the funds for me to become all He has created me to be. Dream on.

Huh.

I’m not sure where this thought came from (and I didn’t care for the Aerosmith reference one bit), but I knew immediately it was true of me.

I’ve always dreamt small, aimed low, settled for low-hanging fruit.

I’m not saying I haven’t worked hard – I have, especially in academia. I’m saying I’ve always made my decisions based strictly upon practicality.

“I can’t” is central to my vocabulary, not because I lack ability or drive, but because I limit myself based on what I think is reasonable to assume can be accomplished with the resources I have – time, money, circumstances, experience, level of education, etc.

In this grad school case, I have let my estimations of what would be practical financially for our family limit my decision as to what program I enroll in. In other words, I’ve picked the cheapest, shortest degree possible in my field.

I began to groggily wonder at 2:26 AM if perhaps the Lord was nudging me to rethink my practical approach…

Six-something AM came too quickly, and I knew two things immediately: 1) There would not be enough coffee that day, and 2) I had to make a decision sooner than later or nights of little sleep would continue.

I got the girls off to school and sat down with a cup of coffee and my computer to check the news (which really means to scroll through my Twitter feed).

I follow a guy named Michael Hyatt, a big wig in publishing, platform building, leadership, and the like, and, wouldn’t you know it, he had posted an article with the tag line, “Are you dreaming big enough?” (The actual name of the article is “Don’t Leave God Out of Your Plans“.)

Huh.

I clicked on the short article, which basically says work hard, but don’t forget it is God that chooses whether or not an endeavor will be successful. In and of ourselves, we aren’t enough.

Michael quoted Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

What struck me about this verse is the Lord has to be behind the building of the small house as well as the protection of the large city. He must be the foundation of all things, no matter their size or perceived importance. He is just as capable of building the house as well as guarding the city, and He must or neither effort will be successful.

I am going to have to rely on Him just as much to provide for the “cheap” degree as I am the “expensive” degrees. Ultimately, if He is not building my education, I am building it in vain. But if He is building my education, there will be no stopping Him. The Lord is not limited by dollar signs.

A little while later I picked up a book I am reading for advent called The Greatest Gift (Voskamp). The scripture for that day was the story of Abraham setting out to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Right in the nick of time, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead, so Abraham named that place The Lord Provides (Genesis 22:1-14).

Huh.

I paused and thought about my early morning musing – God has a way of providing everything we need to become all He has created us to be. Isaac needed that ram. Without that ram, Isaac never would’ve become the ancestor to Christ God created him to be, and Jesus’ lineage would’ve stopped right then… the story would’ve been over. Redemption would’ve become an impossibility. All would’ve been lost. Forever.

I read on.

Voskamp wrote, like only she can, “The Lord sees. And He will see to it. And He will be seen.” The simplicity of the words juxtaposed against the complexity of the thoughts behind the words stopped me. I re-read them. I considered each sentence slowly, absorbing the full weight of the truth she’d encapsulated.

The Lord sees… He sees my situation… He sees yours… He is not blind… He isn’t disinterested… He is paying attention… He is aware… The Lord sees.

And He will see to it… He will take care of your dilemma… He will provide what you need… He will not forget… He will not drop the ball… He will see to it.

And He will be seen… He will be glorified through your situation… Your heart will respond in praise to His faithfulness… Others will see His hand and marvel, too… He will be seen.

Huh.

At this point I acutely (hear the sarcasm) observed the Lord was telling me to dream big and trust Him to provide.

So I committed to the school I felt would help me do that best, enrolled in my first class, and shelled out a lot of money.

And then my husband came home and told me he’d gotten a Christmas bonus for the price of the class minus $50. Sure, we could stand to put that money toward other things, but the timing of the provision of this particular check was not lost on either of us. It was as if the Lord said to me, “Go. I got this.”

I share all this to give Him glory and to encourage you in your situation where you need to be dreaming bigger and trusting Him more. God will provide everything you need to become exactly who He created you to be. 

Living Open-Handedly

So I am starting something new.

(Well, new to me. I actually stole the premise for it right out of Ann Voskamp‘s book.)

Ann talks about living with your hand open, a metaphor for being willing to receive whatever the Lord gives – good or bad – with thanksgiving. And once He gives it, we are to keep our hands open, being willing to allow Him to take it back whenever He decides to, and giving thanks for that too.

Living Open-Handedly
image via foto76/freedigitalphotos.net

I love the image that so succinctly expresses the heart attitude of dying to self, of agreeing with the Lord, “Your will Your way.” Living open-handedly expresses to God that we trust Him. Even when things don’t make sense to us, we trust He will give us what we need when we need it, and we trust He will take away what we don’t need anymore in His perfect timing as well.

As an extension, when we have open hands, we put no demands on God to bless us in exactly the way we want Him to at the exact moment we want Him to in the exact place we want Him to. Instead, we allow Him to put whatever gifts He wants in our palms. This opens our eyes to the unexpected blessings all around us.

As simple as this concept is to explain, it is incredibly difficult to live.

I just finished teaching this idea over the last 6 weeks, and I found myself demonstrating it physically in class for my students. I would lay my hand open for all to see each time I spoke about trusting the Lord, and I would snap it shut in a fist of fear and insecurity to emphasize distrust.

I guess this gesturing while teaching got into my subconscious because a few days ago things started to get interesting.

I found myself sitting in my usual writing spot, and I felt my heart wander down a “my will my way” path. In other words, my proverbial hand snapped shut to God. I recognized this ugly feeling and decided to fight back. I literally opened my hand and laid it palm up on the table. And I prayed, “Lord, whatever You want to give…”

This small, physical act changed my heart in that moment.

God didn’t give me what I had wanted moments before. And I was okay with that. (If you know me at all, that’s a miracle in and of itself.)

I closed my computer and drove to my next engagement, which happened to be at my church. I walked through the empty hallway with my hand literally opened, whispering to the Lord, “Whatever You want to give…” I had no expectations in that moment. If you had asked me what I wanted from the Lord, I couldn’t have told you anything specific…

I went to the restroom and came back out, and there was a surprise gift from the Lord, a sweet friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. I smiled wide, not because I got to see that friend (although that was nice), but because the Lord had personally responded to my open hand.

The next day this introverted mom was feeling a little anxious about a day full of extroverted 4 year old. We went to a school function at my older daughter’s school, and on the way out, I physically laid open my hand and said, “Whatever You want to give, Lord…” I pushed through the doors, and there was another friend, standing in the lobby. She said, “I was just thinking about you!” – an unexpected gift I wouldn’t have had eyes to see if I had snapped my hand closed to gifts that day on account of my day not including any “me time”.

This morning I had coffee with a friend. We planned to go to a location I don’t normally go to because it’s 5 miles out of my way (I know, first world problems). I opened my hand as I drove and said, “Whatever You want to give, Lord.” Then a text came through. My friend wanted to change our location back to my regular spot. “Whatever You want to give, Lord.” She and I had a perfect 2 hour chat, and that was gift enough, but He gave more. Another friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, whom I was missing just the day before, “happened” to come in the shop.

And I smile. Not because of the gifts He gives, but because the Giver is so lavish! So personal! So concerned with me and you and all our hearts’ desires!

As I am learning to relinquish my demanding spirit – my need to control how and when He blesses me – He is gentle and encouraging and rewards my efforts.

I may look crazy, walking around with my right hand turned palm up. And I’m sure I sound crazy, mumbling prayers under my breath. And the whole thing may be crazy, but doing this – literally living open-handedly – opens my heart to Him. It’s changing me.

And it can change you too.

Try it?

New Podcasts: One Thousand Gifts

This past Wednesday I kicked off my teaching series I’ll be in for the next 5 weeks, One Thousand Gifts.

As with the past two series I’ve taught, I am recording each lesson and posting them here.

image via Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
image via Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re still considering coming to the course, give Lesson 1 a listen to see if the class might be for you. If it is, great! Come join me (Wednesday nights, 6:30p, Central Church) live for the rest of the course if you’re in the Memphis area.

If you’re unable to join me live but are still interested in the course, I’ll post the weekly podcasts here so you can study along at your own convenience.

Have questions, comments, or snide remarks about the course? Contact me below.

Next Class: One Thousand Gifts

There’s a book out, and depending on how long you’ve been reading this blog or following me on the social media, you’ve heard me plug it a few or a million times. Because I think it’s a game changer.

So I’m going to teach it.

Again.

A couple of years ago, I taught New York Times’ best-seller One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, to a small group of women who, like me, didn’t want to take the summer off from growing spiritually.

And we had a grand time.

So I’m teaching it again, this time on Wednesdays at 6:30p, at Central Church. The class will run January 22 – March 5, and there is free amazing childcare for those of you who need it. (For your kids. Not for YOU. So let’s get that straight.)

Now that the details are out of the way, let me tell you about the book, and, subsequently, the class.

One Thousand Gifts is a book that entwines the author’s personal story, ripe with hardship, just like yours, with the study of the concept of thanksgiving in scripture. More specifically, we’ll see how Ann’s life was radically changed when 1) the accounts of Jesus giving thanks came to life for her, and 2) she took on a challenge from her friend to begin keeping a gratitude list.

I KNOW!

I can feel your eyes rolling.

Lest they roll clean out of your head, let me beg you to give this concept the benefit of the doubt. Developing your gratitude muscle will enhance your spiritual life (which is your whole life, by the way). Your relationships with God, others, and yourself stand to get a whole lot better when you understand and practice biblical thanksgiving.

Who really needs to take this class?

– pessimists

– realists who are, let’s face it, pessimists

– cynics

– people who feel unhappy the majority of the time

– people who feel like the biblical directive to “rejoice always” is impossible

– people who have trouble sensing God in their everyday lives

– people who honestly want to change

– people who have already read the book, experienced awesome life change, but time has passed and they’ve fallen back into their thankless ways (this is the category I fall into, people, so, no shame. Or shame on all of us… let’s go with no shame.)

– all people everywhere

You in?

Awesome! Do me a favor and sign up here so I can get a head count. If you don’t have the book and want one, I’ll sell you one in class. Bring the cash money or a check. If money is a problem but you’d still like to take the course, email me below. If you already have the book, DON’T START READING IT. Please and thank you. Any other questions? Email me below.

Look forward to seeing you in class!

Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time

On the heels of my last post, there are some things I feel like I can’t choose to do. I just can’t seem to will myself, to discipline myself, to do and/or not do various things.

And all you optimists are saying, “Well, that’s obviously a lie. We are in total control of our own choices.”

And you’re mostly right, but we realists don’t feel like you’re right, so it doesn’t matter.

The only time the statement, “I can’t make myself _____,” is true is when the statement is actually, “I can’t make myself feel ______.”

I can’t make myself feel like cooking.

I can’t make myself feel excited about cleaning.

I can’t make myself feel like not sinning in my favorite way.

And you know what I’m learning? That’s okay.

It’s okay to have the feelings we have. It’s okay to feel what we feel, and we can’t change our feelings.

Where the lie creeps in, though, is when we start to believe we must act a certain way in relation to our feelings. If I feel _____, I must do _____. If I don’t feel ____, I can’t do _____. As if we are powerless over our emotions and hopelessly enslaved to them.

Lies.

Lazy lies.

For years my out has been, if I do something I don’t feel like doing, I’ll be a fake. And, honestly, I don’t have the emotional energy to pretend like I enjoy something when I don’t. Nor do I respect people who are phony.

So I took those thoughts and came to two false conclusions: if I can’t get excited about something, I shouldn’t do it, and, if I am excited about something, I have a right to do it. 

Turns out that’s quite a problematic approach to “being an adult”.

But there is a solution for those of us that operate this way. And it’s not what you think.

The answer is not to learn to get more excited about things we dislike. Hell can freeze over, thaw, and refreeze again, and I will never get excited about cleaning my house. Or eating quinoa. Or not eating pizza daily. Or resisting the pull of my favorite sins.

The answer is not to develop an affection for things we just don’t have an affection for or to somehow rid ourselves of the affections we have for things that are bad for us. The answer has nothing to do with how we feel or don’t feel about the areas in which we lack self-discipline.

The answer lies in re-framing our situations.

Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time
image via foto76/freedigitalphotos.net

For example, I can’t wait until I feel like exercising to exercise. That day will never come. But I also can’t force myself to exercise while cursing the whole time and expect myself to develop a lifelong routine of exercising. When I don’t exercise, I hate exercise. When I force myself to exercise, I hate exercise. And thinking about how much I hate exercise all the time isn’t productive.

But you know what I do like? Playing soccer. Well, that’s not true. I like playing soccer when I’m fit. If I’m not fit, I can’t physically do what I know I would be capable of if I were in shape, and then I hate playing soccer.

So I can take this idea that I want to be fit so I can enjoy playing soccer again, and I can attach it to exercise, which I still hate, mind you. And I can tell myself, it’s okay to hate exercise. But I’m going to exercise anyway so I will be in shape (and, therefore, enjoy) playing ball next month.

See what I did there? I re-framed exercise. It’s still an annoying piece of my daily routine I feel negative about, but I choose to do it anyway because it’s a necessary means to an end I do get really excited about. I’m not getting tripped up in my feelings anymore. I’m choosing to act independently of my feelings.

And we can do that – you and I, resident pessimists – we can learn to re-frame any number of situations in order to develop some much needed self-discipline. 

Ann Voskamp says, “You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see,” (The Greatest Gift).

It’s true.

What situation do you need to re-frame today? Ask Him to help you. And shoot me an email if you want to talk about it. Unless it’s about cooking. Then I can’t help you.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

A Holiday Survival Guide for Moms Who Hate Crafts

Hey, Moms,

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I think I managed to have the children complete 6 out of 28 “things they are thankful for leaves” for our Thanksgiving tree.

Encouragement For Moms During Advent

I can’t decide whether I’m proud of that number or embarrassed… On the one hand, I’m surprised we got that many done, given that this craft-adverse mama couldn’t psych herself up enough to start the project until the week of Thanksgiving… 6 is pretty impressive when you look at it that way.

And now Advent season is coming, and we moms feel the pressure once again to “make memories” with our little ones and point them to Christ so they don’t lose Him somewhere in the wrapping paper, but, honestly, few of us really believe we can do that without making ourselves flat crazy…

But before we pull out our brown paper bags – to hyperventilate in, not to create some glitter-laden, pipe-cleaner reindeer head – there’s some truth we need to remind ourselves of…

Those 6 days of Thanksgiving leaves – taped to the mantle because this mom couldn’t fit in a trip to a craft store to find some decorative branches, and just what would I put them in anyway? – those 6 days of reading thankful scriptures and leading little ones in scrawling their own thanks in crayon on the back of each leaf and taking the time to tell the Giver, “Thank You” – were better than none. 

Read that again, Mom.

Some is better than none.

Whatever effort we make during Advent will be better than nothing, too.

Because He was never after crafts anyway.

The best thing you can do for your kids during Advent?

Take the time YOURSELF to marvel at the grand orchestra that is the redemption of mankind through one… little… baby. When we are in awe of Him, our kids will find Him awe-some as well – the real point of Advent.

I want to wait with bated breath for Christmas morning to finally arrive because the true story that God became baby to save you and me from ourselves is just. too. good.

And if there are no homemade cookies and popsicle stick snowflakes made by little hands too sprinkle and glitter happy, that’s ok, because the waiting for the unfolding of God’s redemption plan – from the Fall til that first Christmas morning, from His ascension til His return – poised on the edge of our seats – that is enough.

Because He was never after crafts anyway.

No, He’s after our hearts.

It’s hard to keep this focus. Understatement, I know.

But I know something that can help because just reading the introduction has already helped me. It’s a new Advent devotional book called The Greatest Gift by One Thousand Gifts author, Ann Voskamp. I could not be more excited about this resource I am using to right MY heart, and, lucky for us, these are on sale for $7 at Lifeway today.

You need to read this book. Your kids need you to read this book. A few pages each day will keep the awe of Christ in the front of your mind – on the whole of your heart – front and center for your little ones to see, to feel.

And if you manage to bake some cookies with them somewhere between now and Christmas morning, consider yourself an overachiever.

♥ Kelly

The One Thing God Will Never Ask You to Sacrifice

I wrestled long through the night, trying to convince God my situation is the exception to His rule…to His Word. He listened while I presented my argument 1,000 different ways, but my logic couldn’t change His mind.

God is God so He is always right.

When I awoke the next morning, I was tired. From the lack of sleep, yes, but even more so from the fighting to make myself Him… to take His place as the One who calls the shots…

Well.

He does intend on making me like Him, but not Him.

I could tell I’d lost my case the night before, and I was desperate. So I did all I could do – I shot straight with Him. Finally.

Through my tears I poured out the heart behind all my lobbying. And through His tears He talked me through the truth.

“It’s not fair…” I railed, less like a toddler and more like a battered soul that can’t take one more punch. And with no pause He responded “No, it’s not… And it wasn’t fair that Jesus hung on a cross for crimes He hadn’t committed but He did it anyway because of love.”

“Jesus sacrificed Himself even though it hurt,” God continued. “And don’t think for a minute it didn’t hurt. When Christ called out to Me from the cross, it was a cry – ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?'”

Tears formed faster than I could blink them away.

God went on.

“‘With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last,’ the scriptures say. Jesus’ sacrifice hurt Him. But He did it anyway. Because He was motivated by love for you.”

The words confounded me. How? How could Jesus knowingly – willingly – walk into such pain and keep His focus so narrowly on the joy on the other side?

The truth of the matter is loving sacrificially will hurt me too, but I can’t look Jesus in the eye and tell Him He doesn’t know. I can’t tell Him my hurt is greater than His was. The difference between me and Jesus is that His sacrifice cost Him the Father… when Jesus took our sin, He and the Father were separated

As I learn to sacrifice, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, one thing I will never have to say is, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus had to give up even that – His relationship with His Father. I may be called to go to great lengths, but that will never be one of them.

God brought me back from my thoughts. “I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU,” He emphasized to me. “I will walk with you, one foot in front of the other. And you may limp. And it will hurt. So if you need to put your arm around My neck, I will support you.

And we will walk. Together. One foot in front of the other.”