Better Together

Some things are just too heavy to lift alone. Recently our family bought a turquoise table for the front yard. Great story about how we came up with that plan and I’ll share it another time. This table is substantial and heavy. In my mind it was easy to lift it and move it from place to place. In reality it was too heavy for me to move alone and required a minimum of two people. Even with two people it was challenging to move 30 feet across the yard.

It makes me wonder how often I am jumping to the conclusion that I can do something on my own instead of considering the load.

Trying to do it alone leads me to pride, isolation, and sin patterns that are not good for my soul. God designed me for community. Just like moving the table, asking for help makes the task more possible and more fun. Inviting people into the mission beings richness to the experience, the journey, and the fruit. We are truly better together.

What are you trying to do alone? Who can you invite into the experience with you?

Before the Morning

Have you heard the song by Josh Wilson “Before the Morning”?  If not listen today.

Every day is divided into darkness and light.  The dark of night can be scary and filled with thoughts of fear and anxiety.  Sometimes it is all you can do to get through the night to the light of day.  With the light of day, those thoughts do not have the same impact because we can see things in the light that were not obvious in the dark.  This is not only true of each day, it is also true of weeks, months, seasons, and years.
The song “Before the Morning” is heavy but never fails to fill me with hope.  It seems that heavy is a word that accurately describes much of life right now.  The news delivers heavy stories 24/7.  In our family, illness and strife offer up heavy.  Close friends are currently experiencing their own heavy.  Heavy is happening right here in my own home.  All of it can weigh me down.  And it does.
Which is why I cling to hope when it is offered.
In his song, Josh Wilson puts words to our thoughts.  He asks the questions we often ask in the midst of heavy.  Does God love me?  Where is God?
These are heavy questions.
If we were left there with only questions, life would feel (or even be) defeating.  But the song continues and so does life.  Josh Wilson asks if we would dare to believe.  Do we believe that joy is coming?  Do we believe that there is still a reason to sing?
I do.  I hope you do too.  For now, be encouraged as you watch and listen to Josh Wilson’s song.
Josh Wilson excerpts of lyrics to “Before the Morning.”
Do you wonder why you have to feel the things that hurt you
If there’s a God who loves you, where is He now
Would you dare, would you dare to believe
That you still have a reason to sing
Cause the pain that you’ve been feeling
It can’t compare to the joy that’s coming

During the Break

My dear friend has a sweet little girl who had a birthday yesterday. I was blessed to be in the room when she was born six years ago. A miracle. A gift.

This little girl is always smiling – her mouth, her eyes, her whole being. She is delightful. Our family loves her so much. We get to see her a few times a week most weeks. A few times a year during extended vacations, weeks go by without us seeing this precious child. When we see each other again I am amazed by the growth in her – physically, verbally, and emotionally. One thing never changes. She smiles with her whole being.

Have you experienced something similar? You see someone after an extended absence or break and you are shocked by the growth.

Growth happens in spite of our breaks. Transformation occurs within us based on many variables. Our action is one. Our rest is another. Our environment, choices, relationships impact our life, beliefs, and heart. And our heart impacts our actions and rest. It is complex and hurts my brain to consider (never mind trying to control) this phenomenon. I am extremely grateful God is sovereign and I can rest in Him – trusting Him with transformation.

Two years plus is a long time and a lot can happen in two days, let alone two years. This was true of me during the break from writing online. Transformation happened. I am the same person yet different. Nothing was or will be wasted. Transformation happened in my circumstances and in my soul.  

The thing about taking a break is that even when we are not directly working on our intended project (call, dream, or passion), we are still moving and growth is still happening inside of us. God is still working. We are being transformed.

Have you taken a break from your call, dream, or passion? What growth or transformation has happened during the break? Claim and celebrate that transformation now.

Break

There was a season where my husband and I faithfully ended our days snuggling and laughing to an episode of Friends.  You may recall, Friends was a sitcom about six friends living in the heart of New York City.  Over the course of ten years they go through the highs and lows of life and learn what it truly means to be friends.  Watching them navigate friendships, family trouble, romance, fights, laughs, tears and surprises brought us much joy.
In one particular episode during the third season, Rachel and Ross, an on again off again couple decide to take a break in their relationship.  Later, after Ross meets someone else, drama ensues and Ross delivers the line “We were on a break”.  This phrase and countless variations became a recurring part of the show triggering countless laughs.  Rachel defined break as temporary and Ross believed break was break up.  I watched this clip again and smiled as I reminisced.
A break is defined as an interruption of continuity or a pause in work or during an activity.  When I saw the date of my last blog post I was shocked.  I didn’t realize my break had extended beyond weeks or months.  Years had passed.  I never intended to break up with blogging and apologize to any of you who may have felt I had.
Why did I stop blogging?
There were several reasons.  A crazy part of reasons is that they can border on excuses – not enough time, not enough talent, nobody cares anyway.   Each of these excuses was rooted in my own fears.  So to be real with ya’ll here is the truth.  I was afraid to write.  I was afraid of being vulnerable.  I desperately did not want to be hypocritical or preachy.  I was afraid to fail.
 Fear paralyzed me.
Many of these excuses and fears still live in me.  Yet I am doing it anyway.  I am blogging again and again and again with no plans for a break or a break up.  I hope you’ll stick around and join in the conversation.
Maybe you, like me, have some fears disguised as excuses that are keeping you from pursuing something.  Start there.  What if for today you just jotted down your excuses?  Writing them down (you are invited to comment here if you’d like) gives light to them.  Then wait and see what happens next.  Be brave!  You are not alone!

Remember

IMG_4539Would you agree that 2015 is flying by?!  Each day I am shocked to realize another calendar page has turned and there is still so much to get done.  Or is there?  Will the to-do list ever really be completed?
I know I am not alone in getting caught up in the daily to-do list and the many routine activities of life.  So much busyness, that I don’t take time or enough time to remember important truths.  Truths like who God is and what he calls me to.  My 2015 Focus Word STRETCH often serves to stop me in my tracks.  And when I stop I remember.
In Isaiah 42:5 we read “This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:” 
One quick glimpse with open eyes to the sky reveals evidence of this truth.  Taking a moment to observe a group of people also reveals evidence of this truth.  I am so grateful for these truths.
Reflecting on God the creator brings me to tears as I admit the truth of how big God really is and the smallness of my daily priorities when done with no remembrance of God.  He stretches out the heavens.  He can certainly handle the details of my day.  Remembering stirs a desire for me to share more words, song, tears, and time with God.
Isaiah goes on to remind us of the call to be a light, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives, and to release from the dungeons those who sit in darkness.   That is what God calls me to and that is what God calls you to.  My prayer is that we would remember God and daily stretch to share the freedom Jesus offers.

Faith Precedes Miracles

Several verses captured my attention when I was searching the Bible to learn about the word STRETCH.  In Jesus Restores you learned about the first one.  In this post, I will share the second.
God’s revelation that my 2015 Focus word was STRETCH was initially not welcome.  Resistance, rebellion and questions are often my first response.  Gratefully, God patiently parents me and leads me down the path that is best for me.  I am guessing you may know something about this too.  Moses did.
When God called to Moses from a burning bush, Moses responded “Here I am.”  Appropriate response when God of the universe calls your name.  Moses showed faith.
Then God tells him the plan.  He wants Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt.  Moses resists.  “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ And God said, ‘I will be with you.  And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you:  When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.'” Exodus 3:11-12 
This is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between God and Moses.  Initially, there is some resistance on Moses’ part.  Yet, God still chooses to use Moses as part of God’s miraculous works.  In Exodus 14:26-27 we see another example of God calling Moses to exhibit his faith in God via stretch.  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”  Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea.
Moses faithfully responds and God performs the miracle.  Moses has experienced God’s miracles.  Recall the burning bush, leprosy, plagues and the Red Sea as a few examples.  Moses did not perform miracles.  God did.  Moses had faith.  Moses stretched at God’s command.  God performed miracles.
Hear this.  There is no formula with God. God uses ordinary people.  God gives faith.  God performs miracles.
Yet, these verses about stretching when God calls speak to me.  They spark a desire in me to pray for God to use me. Pray with me.
Dear God, Give me a heart and ears to hear your commands.  Give me faith to stretch.  Give me eyes to see your miracles.  And give me the voice to point everyone to you.  I pray this in the might name of Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus Restores

Jesus RestoresHas your 2015 focus word been revealed?  If yes, please share with us.  If not, continue waiting for God to show you.  This may simply look like God confirming a theme or word that came to your mind.  And the you hear the word and see the word everywhere.  Probably, it will not be a lightning bolt experience.  God speaks in whispers too.
For 2015, my focus word is STRETCH.  Read more about how it came to be in Stretch Me Oh Lord. Already, this word is inspiring me to grow and stretch my physical body. This week it also caused me to take steps with a writing project that my entire flesh wanted to quit on.  This writing project is for a speaking opportunity that I know is coming.  Fears abound.  And I was tempted to believe that I misunderstood God’s vision.  I didn’t.  I have no idea how it will play out, but I am being called to stretch outside of my comfort zone in faith.  Maybe you are too.
As promised, I want to expand on the first of three verses that confirmed STRETCH for me.  Today, let’s look at Matthew 12:13 where Jesus is speaking.  Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.
Jesus restores.  Restores means to give back or to return to original condition.  Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath and a man is there.  The man has a withered or shriveled hand.  The Pharisees see this as an opportunity to catch Jesus breaking the Sabbath.  Jesus sees this as an opportunity to heal and to teach the religious leaders.  Instead of receiving truth from Jesus himself, the religious leaders immediately plot to kill Jesus.
Jesus values man.  Imagine this scene in your mind.  This man has a withered hand.  Most likely there is physical pain associated with his condition.  Most definitely it has hindered his ability to work and therefore to provide for himself and his family.  Maybe it even impacted his capacity to have a family.  The withered hand impacts his livelihood, relationships, social status, and quality of life.  Jesus cares about our lives and places significance on our worth.
Jesus responds to our faith.  When Jesus walked into the room and said words to the man, the man showed faith in Jesus by obeying Jesus.  He could have questioned him and turned away.  Instead he obeyed.  The man showed faith in Jesus by simply stretching out his hand.  Jesus does not ask much or force our response.  Jesus offers.  And when he offers it is always for our good.
Jesus provides the miracle.  The man did not heal himself.  Jesus restored his hand.  Jesus gave this man his life back. Jesus has the power to heal us under any circumstances.  Imagining Jesus take withered hands and restore causes me to remember in gratitude how Jesus takes withered lives and restores.  Jesus does that for me.  And Jesus does that for you.  Knowing Jesus grows my faith and restores my soul.  Jesus inspires me to stretch anticipating miracles.

Stretch Me Oh Lord

Stretch
Photo from livestrong.com

Focus words have played a powerful role in my life over the past several years.  Each year my word brings my attention to God in a personal way.  My word gives me gratitude for the situations and growth in my life.  My word helps me to share what God is doing in my life with others.  Most of all, my word shows up in my conversations with God and helps me to feel his faithfulness in the details of my life.

I love focus words and am grateful to my dear friend Julie for introducing them to me.  I encourage everyone I know to have their own personal focus word each year.  Take time to read 2015 Focus for ideas on receiving your own focus word.  It doesn’t matter whether your word comes in December, January, or June – receive it and enjoy the benefits whenever it comes.

For 2015, God gave me the word STRETCH.    Remembering the story of how it came about creates intense feelings of God’s love.  It is hard not to believe that STRETCH is our secret word – created by God just for me and just for now.

When STRETCH first showed up in my life, I resisted strongly, but now I smile really big just thinking about it.  I like fitness.  I love to run and chat with friends.  I love fitness classes where you can push yourself, laugh with others, get your sweat on, grow stronger, then carry on with your day feeling energized. Everyone knows that part of exercising is stretching.  The physical benefits are tremendous and if you are a regular exerciser you have to find time to stretch your muscles. If you don’t, pain and injury result.  Such is my story.  I failed to make time to stretch and suffered for years because of it.  So in early December, when I was once again saying to myself “I need to stretch” it felt condemning.

Yet the word kept coming up. In my brain it would arrive several times a day.  Sophia and her friends were stretching.  In my email it showed up in ads.  Pictures in magazines showed stretching.  Everyone at the gym was stretching.  Others in my business discussed stretching outside of their comfort zones.  Even my husband seemed to be continually stretching.  So it occurred to me that God might be trying to tell me something.  No way was it my word because it was making me feel guilty, which is the opposite of what focus words do.

Days passed with much of the same.  STRETCH was everywhere.

One morning while spending some quiet time with God, I was in between books of the Bible and was praying about which book to read next.  Nothing.  More prayer. Nothing.  More prayer.  Then I randomly thought maybe I should stretch.  Uh Oh!  There it was again.  Could stretch be my 2015 focus word?  No.  It isn’t even biblical.  So I decided to see if maybe stretch was leading me to a different “biblical” word by doing a Bible word search.   Surprise!  Stretch is biblical.  This is what I found.  More than 82 verses speaking of stretch.  Here are just a few.

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”  Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea.
This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:
My mind was spinning.  My heart was beating fast.  My joy was abundant.  Each of these verses speaks to me personally. In the coming days I will share more about those conversations and the message that may impact your walk too.  God gave me STRETCH for 2015.  I can’t wait to hear what word he has given you.  Share your word in the comments here or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

2015 Focus

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

God knows the plans he has for each of us.  Sometimes, I wish he would just tell me what is coming.  Until I really think about what the knowledge would be and then I am grateful that he alone knows the plans.  He does often give us insights and revelations.

For the last several years instead of New Year’s resolutions, I have chosen a focus word for the year.  The word comes through revelatory prayer and other people or circumstances.  Each year I have confirmed the word through more prayer and a Bible word search.  The process is not time intensive but often is a several instances of just a few minutes over several weeks.  Focus words help us to walk out the year with our eyes on God as we look for how he is working in us through the word.  You cannot fail or miss your goal.  Focus words work!  Focus words are so cool!  Try this process for yourself.  Here is how I choose a focus word:

  1. IMG_4382Pray and ask God for your own focus word.
  2. Look for ways that word shows up through other people and circumstances.
  3. Conduct your own Bible word search as confirmation.
  4. Then walk out the word and see how God works in you with that focus word.

Your focus word should always point you to God first and then to your own strengths (or areas God is growing in you). It should be encouraging and helpful.  It should help you to grow and move forward in a way that honors God.  For example, if “simplify” is your word; then each time you think of the word, see or hear the word or take steps to simplify you will feel intense peace.

If your word makes you feel condemned or bad about yourself and what you are not accomplishing; then it is not your focus word.  For example, if “patience” is your word and every time you think of patience you feel intense shame or want to crawl under the covers; then patience is not your word.  Pray and wait for further revelation.

One of the most fun aspects of focus words compared to goals is that your word will evolve.  The reasons you choose your word in January may not be the same reasons your word encourages you in June or in December.  Stay curious and enjoy the conversation with God throughout 2015 about your word and growth.  For my 2015 word and the story behind it, check back here at www.heopenedmyhands.com.  Happy New Year!

 

 

Time to Trust

IMG_4359Life is full of ups and downs.  Sometimes the downs weigh me down.  I woke this morning with tears brimming.  Today marks what would be my son’s 4th birthday had we not lost him to miscarriage in 2010.  I think of him often.  Sometimes with wonder when I imagine his brown hair and olive skin racing out the door to play with his sisters – one healthy 7 year old named Sophia and one Sarah Elizabeth (also lost to miscarriage in 2009).  I think of him often.  Sometimes with tears when I hear Sophia speak of him.  Most times it is with joy when I realize Cameron Jay is being held and loved on by Jesus.  I think of him often.  All of the time, when I think of Cameron it becomes a time to trust.

I am called to trust in God’s sovereignty.  I am called to trust in God’s promises.  I am called to trust fully in God’s goodness.

We live in a fallen world.  Death and loss are inescapable in our fallen world.  And God is our refuge when we want to escape life’s pressures including death, loss, grief.  I am not alone in losing children to miscarriage.  It happens more than you will ever know even if you know the statistics.  Today I grieve with all who have babies in heaven.  Today I encourage you whether this is your story or you are experiencing another kind of life’s down to pour out your heart to God and let him be your refuge.

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8