Your Perfect Discouragement

A wise friend reminded me last week about spiritual battle and how the devil (1 Peter 5:8–I’m not making this up) often devises profoundly personal attacks against us. Something about the phrase “profoundly personal” made me ask the question of how the enemy of my soul might best discourage me.

I reasoned it might be subtle but just enough to ruin a day, set off a chain reaction of negative behaviors, or cause me to stop a certain ministry.

I thought about what discourages me most. Was it illness? Canceled plans? Any kind of bad news? What subtle thing would it be?

And then I realized that I find myself so nervous and overwhelmed by two things:

Car trouble or if things go wrong in the house.

Car trouble! One of my greatest fears!

In the space of an hour, my garage door crashed down in a crushing, broken thud. Next, the alarm lights came on in my car that something was wrong with my tires. I sat in the car and thought of the day stretching out. I thought of my impossibly tight schedule, all the errands, and all the meetings. I didn’t even have an Uber app. I didn’t even know what to do with our one car kind of life.

It was my perfect discouragement.

So I prayed. I prayed against anything sent to discourage me. And I fortified my heart against the very thing that could discourage me. I reasoned–carefully and slowly, with deep breaths–that I could call a dozen friends for a ride; I could figure out the Uber app or even call a taxi or take the bus; I could cancel my meeting and classes and everyone would survive; I could walk if I needed to.

I prayed. I prayed that this discouragement–my perfect, subtle discouragement–would end.

I pull into Tire Town, and in less than 10 minutes, they fix my problem. I arrive 30 minutes early to my first class. The garage door repairman will come later.

All is well.

I realized it’s wise to think ahead about what might discourage me and fortify my heart, make my plan, and know that nothing escapes the watchful care and provision of the Lord.


Enduring the Cold Wind

Walking in freezing wind ranks up there with those things I’d rather not endure. So today, as the winter wind whipped against my home and cracked the bare branches, I considered how surely, the Danish Grandmother was incorrect to say “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.”

She’d walk in this. She’d probably even enjoy it somehow.

Shall I walk in this?

I shall.

I wrap myself in scarves and a big hat so only my eyes peek out. I venture forth for an hour. I find I’m completely comfortable, toasty even, in the winter wind. I actually feel rather defiant as it comes against me.

By the end of the walk as I saw my house rise up in the distance, I felt sorry to leave the crisp air. I thought of the wind as carrying fresh oxygen, fresh insight, fresh momentum.

I felt aired out like an old mattress that seems new with a dose of clean, cold air.

I shall walk again in even worse weather.


“Your path is following you.”

As I teach on how to write a personal mission statement and produce stellar professional documents (resume / cover letter), I find that so many students worry about finding that perfect career path. They can’t articulate their passion. They just don’t know.

So I remembered this post from 2012:

In an advice column from E. Jean, a reader asks her, “How can I find my passion?”

E. Jean responds, “Here’s the way: Run down as many paths–straight, winding, high, wide, narrow–as you can. Get going, my girl! Run! Fly! Try them all! Take them all! One day, you’ll look down and see that your path is following you.”

“Here’s the way: Run down as many paths–straight, winding, high, wide, narrow–as you can. Get going, my girl! Run! Fly! Try them all! Take them all! One day, you’ll look down and see that your path is following you.”

E. Jean

I’m reminded of that simple truth in scripture in Isaiah that promises this: “Whether you turn to the left or the right, you’ll find a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way; walk in it’.” There’s something so true about the voice behind us, the path that follows us–whispering the way and reminding us what we’re made for.

There’s also the great advice to get going: Run! Fly! Try! 

No matter what I do, God leaves those little breadcrumbs that always lead home.


Wait a Beat, Take a Breath

Today, my friend reminds me that when I feel stressed and pushed into rushed decisions, it’s fine to “wait a beat and take a breath.”

That rushed feeling usually means I’m making a poor decision. It means I’m reacting, not responding.

It’s OK to wait. Take a breath. The decision can wait a minute.


African Peanut Stew

Tonight, I’m trying this recipe for Soup and Stories. It’s an African Peanut Stew made from sweet potatoes, natural peanut butter, and kale or collard greens.

It’s an icy cold evening here in Pennsylvania, so I love cooking soup to warm the kitchen. I put on a little blue apron and any music I’m needing to hear. I’ll grate the ginger and mince the garlic. I’ll peel, chop, and stir.

It’s a restful, creative ritual after a long day of burrowing my face against the icy downpour.


There’s No Other Way

I’ve been thinking about dying to self, about the consecrated life, and about what it means to live as “crucified with Christ.”

It costs you everything. There’s really no other way.

I remember in younger years the overwhelming feeling that this was all crazy. Who would do this? Who would give up everything to follow Jesus? Who would endure what felt like the annihilation of self for this Jesus?

And what would come on the other side? What is the abundant life promised? What would it feel like? Would I still be me?

Would it even be any fun?

It’s like someone told me to dive deep into this pool of faith, sending me into a dark underwater cave where I would surely drown. I would die here with all this surrendering and giving up my rights and turning from sin. I would die. I would lose everything that was me.

But Jesus was that great. Jesus was that true and that real. He would take my life, and I’d be reborn into the person I was supposed to be. I would find my new life in Christ.

I wrote in the margin of my Bible: I want the me that is You.

I started the deep, suffocating dive. I kept swimming through the dark cave’s passage that was the only way to real life, real breath on the other side.

You lose your life and then you find it. There is no other way.


She Brings Gifts of Olive Oil

The original Italian Mama (who had sadly moved away from our town), returns for a visit. We gather–minus one who was traveling– at a little restaurant. When my husband asks when I’ll return home, I say, “Well, these are the Italian Mamas we’re talking about. It could be hours and hours.”

(I remembered that first time we gathered for lunch. I thought it might take an hour. Four hours later, we were just beginning another vital conversation. The coffee and cannoli hadn’t even arrived yet.)

Hours? It could have been days. I would have stayed for days and loved every minute of the honest conversation—raw and hearty and overflowing with love—from friends I’ve journeyed alongside all these years. It’s a different stage of life now with children in college or headed to college. We’re older. We’re seasoned. We’ve settled into ourselves in a way that only growing older allows.

I listen for all the wisdom I can.

At some point, the Italian Mama brings out gifts of delicious olive oil from her new city. Of course! She advises dipping crusty bread into this particular kind of olive oil.

(I recall all the advice: the kind of bread to serve, the way to make your red sauce, how to create the perfect setting of roasted peppers and cheeses. She once left a jar of clam sauce on my doorstep for linguini.)

I think of the gift of friendship and how living with flair always meant connecting to some true, essential thing. When you find that, especially in friendship, you hold on. You reconnect when you can. It might only last for a Saturday afternoon, but it will sustain you for the year.


All the Blessings

I enter into the dark, empty classroom to enact the twenty year old ritual of praying in that sacred space before the students arrive.

I pray over the room, touch each seat, and call forth blessing on the student who will sit in that seat.

This is a sacred vocation. I cannot help what I am doing here.

It’s bizarre. And it’s perfectly natural in this role of royal priest (1 Peter 2:9). Sometimes I kneel down. Sometimes I linger in prayer for joy and hope to fill each heart. I pray for belonging; I pray for a spirit of celebration and laughter. I pray for success and prosperity, for health and well-being.

I catch the eye of an early morning worker who must wonder over what he’s observed: a woman praying in a dark space.

I want to cry out: Yes, this is bizarre, but I promise it’s perfectly natural! It’s who I am–who any Christian is; we enter rooms and consecrate spaces to proclaim blessing in the name of the Lord!

We cannot fathom the power we have. We cannot know the authority. We cannot understand this special designation that we move in our ordinary world as part of a royal priesthood under Jesus, our Great High Priest. What can it mean? We will see only dimly until one day, we know in full.

And we will marvel in disbelief that we never understood our true identity all this time.


Take the Feedback

For 2019, I’m thinking of how deeply feedback matters. When you think about the areas of your life and wonder about your performance, who offers you feedback? Who has the wisdom and expertise to provide developmental guidance on any area of your life from housekeeping, meals, career, finances, relationships, spiritual growth, marriage, parenting, fitness, etc. etc. etc.

Find that person. Set up a meeting.

Today, I’m meeting with a speaking coach to help me improve in key areas of public speaking. I’m so excited! I cannot wait!

When you meet with someone for personal development in any area, you might ask: What am I doing well? Where can I improve? What next steps do you suggest? What resources might I read to continue to grow in this area? What people might you suggest I contact for mentorship in this area? What warning signs am I looking for that tell me I’m getting off track in this or that area?

Then, take the feedback.

Take the feedback!

Finally, consider how you might serve as someone to offer feedback to others, especially if you feel you have an area of expertise. When someone approached me who asked if I would like professional feedback on public speaking, I felt so loved and excited. You might be that person for someone else.