Our Thoughts During Trouble

This morning I read afresh the words God gave to Aaron to bless the people in Numbers 6:22-27.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

I’ve studied and written so much about God’s keeping presence (Coming soon! You’ll be hearing so much more about this!) and I’m so comforted and connected again to Jesus when I think of all He does to keep us, cover us with grace, give us His presence, and provide peace to our souls.

I imagine Aaron speaking this blessing over me and my family, and it’s just so moving to imagine it. (Read it aloud over yourself, and think about the words falling on you like rain.)

I love how this blessing comes at the beginning of trouble; the Israelites were about to begin all those years of wandering in the desert. Perhaps God was training the people how to think about Him during trouble. I think about how to shape my thoughts in the midst of trouble or my own wilderness experiences or wandering:

I remember that God blesses and keeps me.

His grace and favor rest upon me.

I experience His presence and His peace at all times.

No matter what desert I’m in.

Later, all the way in the New Testament book of John, we read Jesus’ words that resonate with Aaron’s blessing. Jesus says, “Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I think about how Jesus demonstrates to His followers how not to feel alone (the Father is with you!) and that we will have peace no matter what trouble comes. We can take heart! We can rest in God’s presence and peace, just like Aaron prayed for the Israelites. 

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Best 10 Tips for Rising Middle Schoolers

We’ve been compiling Best Tips for our youngest who starts 6th grade next week. Her big sister, now in high school, offered her advice as well as Dad, counselors, and other teens. Enjoy this list! It’s great for any of us starting off in a new environment.

10 Best Tips for Rising Middle Schoolers

  1. Stay organized. In addition to your weekly planner, use lists or other reminders to finish assignments on time. All of sudden, you have to manage multiple classes with multiple teachers. You can do it! Take time each day to make a plan for your homework. Give yourself a break if you feel disorganized at first and forget your gym clothes or instrument one day or if you forget to study for a science test. You’ll get the hang of it!
  2. Participate. Think about how you might join into the school in a way that’s perfect for you. It could be something small like raising your hand in class to answer questions. Join new clubs and sports. Go to the football games. Contribute in some way to the community of your middle school.
  3. Find your support network. The middle school years can be so challenging emotionally, physically, and socially. Think about your support network beyond just your parents. Who can support you in your community? Think about youth pastors, counselors, other parents, extended family, older students, and teachers. You need support, and we are all here for you!
  4. Own your personal grooming routine. Now is the time to take showers every day, stay nice-smelling, brush teeth, and launder your clothes to present yourself for the day.
  5. Ride the wave of emotions. You won’t always feel this way. My husband says, “It’s just a day. Tomorrow is a new day.” If today was not so good, tomorrow is a fresh start. When days feel dark and serious, find a way to have fun and relax. Eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise each day, and take time to reflect on the day, and your emotions will calm down eventually. You are not your thoughts; your brain is doing crazy things, and when you feel like a stranger to yourself, just know that this is all totally normal for middle school. But if you feel overwhelmed or sad day after day, don’t be afraid to tell adults and doctors how you are feeling so they can help you.
  6. Consider your strategies. When a problem comes like conflict in a friendship, not finding a seat in the lunchroom, or any kind of disappointment, before you let the stress and overwhelming despair control you, stop, take a deep breath, and think of all the strategies you have to handle this situation. Then, celebrate that you figured out how to solve a problem on your own.
  7. Accept all people and treat them with dignity. You will meet so many people who have a different religion, political viewpoint, background, or lifestyle. Believe you have something to learn from everyone you meet, and don’t think you are superior to people. Instead of considering how different someone is from you, imagine that this person might become a great friend. Give people a chance.
  8. Smile, look people in the eye, say their names, and ask great conversation questions. Now is the time to perfect social skills. If you ask people about themselves, you can get a conversation going by then saying, “Tell me more! or What was that like for you?” So if you meet a new friend in Math, you can say, “Bill, what elementary school did you attend?” When they answer, say, “What was that like for you?” And the conversation will take off. Try it!
  9. Take on the role of encourager. Use your words to bless people, not harm them. If you must, walk away from gossipers and complainers and surround yourself with positive people.
  10. Remember that you are not alone and we all believe in you! You are great!  We are all here for you! Your family and your community are all here supporting you. You are a wonderful person, and the world needs someone just like you. Most of all, I remind my daughters that God is with them when they feel alone and that God has great plans for their lives when they feel insecure and lack self-esteem.

You are going to have a great 6th grade year!!

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The Block Party

Once again, our little street closes down from traffic with bright orange cones signaling the annual block party. 

Children ride bikes and motorized mini cars. They splash about with water games and draw with chalk. All the dogs come out. The parents gather in a semicircle of camping chairs. We bring desserts and side dishes, and the neighbors in the middle of the street provide “the meats.” 

Smoked brisket, grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs, and ribs arrive to the food tent set up between the two middle houses. Shaded and kept free from insects here, the food just keeps coming. 

And we sit. All day, we sit and talk, petting dogs and watching children. We hold the babies. We marvel about growing children and new grandchildren from the street patriarch. 

Here, you swap stories. You sip your soda. It’s a slow, all day kind of thing. 

My oldest offers her services as babysitter. Eight years ago, she was six years old here. Now this. 

I have to sign off. All the pies are arriving to the food tent. 

This day reminds me of the joys of neighborhood living. I have nowhere to be but here. 

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Finding Your “Patch of Sunshine”

Today my friend, Laurie (who originally challenged me to write my first blog post in March 2010–and my whole life changed after that one word of challenge), posted a picture of her cat lounging in the sun. She captioned, “He found his patch of sunshine today!” with the hashtag #livewithflair.

I smiled! I laughed! I remembered all those days I would come home from work and go find the cats lounging in some patch of sunshine.

I love to find my cats lounging in the sun when they “find their patch of sunshine.” It’s an ever-moving, ever-different patch because no day arrives the same and no sunshine stays in one spot for long. So it’s absolutely true that the cats “find their patch of sunshine.” Especially when the house is cold and dark, finding the patch of sunshine becomes of prime importance. It’s like the whole day, for a cat, depends up this search.

I’m inspired that we can find our patch of sunshine–that place of rest and warmth and joy–in any setting. It won’t be the same each day, and it won’t stay for long, but like cats, we search for sun, stretch out, and bask.

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The New You

Today I suddenly recall the number of times God changes somebody’s name in the Bible. It happens a lot. It’s so cool. It’s as if God says, “You are no longer going to live in the past or as a victim of your past. You are no longer limited anymore by your past. You are a new person entirely.”

I’m sitting in my chair by the Weeping Cherry, sipping my routine hazelnut coffee, reading the Bible and thinking about the past and all the ways I need to mature and grow when, like lightning in my soul, I remember God changes names. 

He takes the old you and gives you a new identity, one not rooted in all the past limitations or stories, but a totally new you. He often takes someone and turns their identity into the opposite of what they once were (or who others believed they were). Abram (who had no children yet) now becomes Abraham (the father of many). Sarai (who also had no children yet) becomes Sarah (a princess and mother of nations). You can read about this in Genesis 17.

But it gets better as you keep reading the Bible. Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul. All now manifest the power of God in stunning, overwhelming ways.

I wonder if the new name helped them remember. I wonder if they slipped back into using their old names and had to say, “Oh, I’m sorry! That’s not actually me anymore. I have a new name I go by now. And by the way, this new name means I’m this awesome new person and chosen by God to do amazing things. So remember the new me.”

I tell my friend that I don’t want to live in the past me anymore; I want to live in the new identity God gives me. God will one day actually assign me a new name (Revelation 2:17), but right now, as a child of God, I am “crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). I have His name, really.

He changes our name. We are new people. We become the opposite of that identity that most drags us down. I like to think the new me has something to do with hope instead of despair, peace instead of anxiety, abundance instead of emptiness, and connection instead of loneliness. Is there a name that means all of those things?

I’m so glad God changes names. He determines who I am, not my past.

 

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Coming Along

The eggplant, the carrots, the beans, the basil, the beets, the cucumber, the tomatoes, and the peppers all grow rapidly in this heat and sun and afternoon rain. 

It’s a cozy feeling to know that we’ll harvest so much. My daughters love checking the garden, waiting.

On the far side of the yard against the fence, we pick blackberries each day. And we eye the raspberries that will come soon.

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Us, Only More Real

I’ve been worried about abundance lately. Who can say that, really? I’m worried about abundance. What a curious life! Here’s the situation: I have three tomato plants with dozens of tomatoes ripening at the same rate. Soon, I’ll be up to my nose in tomatoes.

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What do you do with so many? My neighbor pops in and helps. She’s carrying a peach cobbler she made from her peach tree which means I’ll listen to absolutely anything she has to say. I brew coffee as she teaches me all about making sun-dried tomatoes in the oven. Basically, 200 degrees, slice tomatoes, salt, pepper, garlic. Hours later, and you have your dried tomatoes.

As we drink a quick cup of coffee and discuss our transition to the fall semester–the whole time lamenting hard things and what a long summer it’s been–my dear neighbor tells me how she dried out the tomatoes and then froze them in little baggies.

“What did you use them for?” I ask, not being able to remember one single recipe that required dried tomatoes. Why is it that we possess in abundance what we feel we can’t use? We waste so much.

“Pizza! Pasta! Salads!” she says, describing the pop of flavor and how delicious those tomatoes were all year long. I learn I can also make chicken with a sun-dried tomato cream sauce, a baked tomato penne, tomato soup, tomato risotto, and a goat cheese and tomato spread—all with dried tomatoes!

A whole new autumn and winter take form, and in this scene, I’m stirring piping hot tomato soup to my family in my cozy home. Everything feels right again. We’re stocked with dried tomatoes. What more do we need here?

I consider how intensely tangy my tomatoes will become as I dry them out. I think about how the flavor emerges in concentrated form. It’s wonderful, like an amplified tomato, a version of itself that was always in there but drowning in excess.

I think about this long drying and dehydrating process that produces this particular flair. For so many of my friends, this whole summer was a long drying out. For some of us, this was a soul-dehydrating summer. We feel stripped down, emptied of our juices, and all leathery inside and out.

Consider the sun-dried tomato! What attempted to dry us out only intensified our flavor. We’re us, only more real. A tomato amplified. 

I like to think about struggle and disappointment as a way of creating the real me, the one with all the tangy zeal. It’s painful when all the comfortable, juicy things in life leave us. But then, what’s left is real and true. The Italian Mamas know this. This beautiful intensity!

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If It Feels Differently: Handling Loneliness in Leadership

I read Elisabeth Elliot’s quote: “Loneliness is a required course for leadership.” 

I’ve been thinking about the strange feelings that come with greater and greater opportunities to lead and serve. You can’t quite name it, but something feels a little differently from what you’re used to. 

Do you know what I mean? 

Finally, a name: it’s what psychologists call the particular loneliness of leadership. 

Rarely, however, do leadership seminars prepare you for this experience. I think about Moses who so often had to walk separately ahead. Yes, he gathered elders and assistants, but mostly, he seemed alone. 

What was that like at night? What was that like to be amid thousands yet often alone? 

But I consider the benefits and hope to encourage those in leadership: This aloneness drives you towards your inner being and to more and more intimacy with God. It deeply connects you to your family. It clarifies how much you need a team. 

But it’s different. Do not fear: These strange experiences are normal and necessary. You aren’t alone in your aloneness. 

Plus, it’s like an illusion. You might feel alone and misunderstood and separate, but, in reality, you’re connected with and cared for and bonded to so many in your community. 

Finally, consider that God sees and knows all about this cost of leadership. He knows you precisely; He knows how to meet every need you have, including the need for fellowship and connection. Maybe He’ll surface other leaders for you to connect with. Maybe He’ll remove the feelings altogether. Maybe He’ll show you a little tweak that might help things feel better. Maybe you just need one phone call with another friend across the nation who shares your role. 

Meanwhile, you’re not alone. 

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To Have Dominion Over This

I’m reading Genesis 1-2 and considering again the creation mandate of dominion

God grants us dominion over the environment in which He places us. Dominion means to have authority, maintain control of,  to order rightly, and to subdue. Essentially, it’s a ruling mandate. 

But instead of living in the truth of God’s mandate here, and the Holy Spirit’s power that no sin has dominion over us, I often live as if environments (people, food, systems) have dominion over me

But no! I exercise dominion here–in broad forms of order, leadership, and peace–and begin to walk in the truth of it.  

We have dominion. 

I have dominion over this environment and whatever here is out of order. Maybe it’s a small thing like clutter or a large thing like my own disordered interior states. Whatever needs ruling, I have God’s dominion working through me. 

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