Freely Receive; Freely Give

Something fun happened yesterday. Two enormous cases of KN95 masks arrived on my doorstep. For teaching at Penn State and travel, I order two small boxes of these masks, but amazon sent cases. Cases not boxes. Simple mistake right? I wanted 50 masks and now I had 1500. But amazon still only charged me for the boxes. And the KN95 aren’t cheap! What would I do now?

My husband talked to the KN95 mask company, and they graciously apologized for their mistake and told us we were free to donate these masks and distribute them to our neighbors. So generous! So last night, we did just that. I loved the joy of knowing something was freely received and freely given, just at the right time when neighbors needed good masks.

When something in life seems like a big mistake, it might just be a pathway to blessing someone. I look at the excess of masks and remember that God moves in generous, often humorous ways.

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Holding Joy and Sorrow

I recently received sad news about the death of a friend’s son. My heart felt so heavy this morning, but I still had to start my semester at Penn State. I asked God this question: “How can I teach my classes when I am also grieving with my friend?”

I turned to Matthew 14 where Jesus has withdrawn to grieve the death of his friend John the Baptist. Jesus must immediately turn around and feed the waiting crowd. He is grieving but is at the same time stirred to compassion and love for the people. He multiplied limited resources (5 loaves and 2 fish) and the people “ate and were satisfied.”

I thanked God that he can take our limited capacity when we have sorrow and multiply it to bless and satisfy the “crowd” of students.

I also talked to a mentor who reminded me that “deep sorrow can exist with even deeper joy” (from Sarah Young). I’m beginning to learn that the journey of Christian maturity, especially as you enter into the lives of others, involves holding sorrow and joy in tension every day of your life.

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The Ice that Freezes You In Place

Today, we endured an actual ice storm! Nearly half an inch of ice currently covers our whole outside world. (I’m in the process of finally buying a new phone with a nice camera, so one day, you’ll see better pictures here. For now, you’ll have to use your imagination.) Imagine every object, tree, and sidewalk encased in ice. It’s beautiful and treacherous at the same time. We’re advised to avoid all travel and stay right where we are.

I’ve been thinking about times in life where we feel frozen in place by a variety of difficult things. It’s been a hard few years. I know so many people suffering loss at this very moment. Bad news can freeze you. Grieving can freeze you. Rejection can freeze you.

It’s good and bad to stay frozen. I see the sparkling ice and know that God brings a blessing through pain. But it’s mostly bad. We’re not meant to stay frozen and stagnant.

What I know about this treacherous ice is that it will melt. The warm sun will shine and melt what feels like a frozen and encased heart. It won’t always be this way or feel this way. God will make all things new.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be Everything

I’m learning the secret to people who stay a long time in their careers and who never seem to suffer from boredom or burnout. It’s the advice I received 12 years ago from a mentor who said, “Don’t let this job be everything. It’s a job. It’s not your life.”

It’s a job. It’s not your life. 

I think, at least for academics, the job becomes your whole life. Being a professor is everything. That’s the temptation. But what if your job is just part of your life, even a small part? Can you imagine the rest you’d feel and the balance? The well-being? Can you imagine how that would feel?

Back in graduate school, my advisor sternly warned me to never put my life on hold until I got a certain promotion. “Get married. Have children. Don’t put off your life for work.”

Don’t put off your life for work. 

I took both pieces of advice as I launched into a writing and speaking career. It’s a nice part of my life. But it’s not my whole life.

When you have the right relationship to work, you’ll find you enjoy greater happiness, success, and well-being. As I look at the people who enjoy their careers (and achieve great success), I notice the similarities in their lives. The work is just part of an otherwise full and joyful life. One is a triathlete. One manages a volunteering program. One is a quilter. One hosts fantastic book clubs and just wrote a book about how to have a great book club night. One travels whenever she can.

What would you do if your work wasn’t your life?

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Some Worship Songs I’m Loving

Sometimes you just find songs you cannot stop listening to. I’m currently loving “Jireh” from Maverick City and Elevation Worship. Jehovah-Jireh translates to “The Lord will provide.” Here is a great youtube video to listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4OHSHd9wyA

I love the opening lyrics of this song:

I’ll never be more loved than I am right now
Wasn’t holding You up
So there’s nothing I can do to let You down
It doesn’t take a trophy to make You proud
I’ll never be more loved than I am right now, oh

Going through a storm but I won’t go down
I hear Your voice
Carried in the rhythm of the wind to call me out
You would cross an ocean so I wouldn’t drown
You’ve never been closer than You are right now
(Let’s sing it loud y’all)

I also love the song “Testimony” by Elevation worship. I loved listening to hundreds of college students singing this song at a recent conference. My favorite line is “because grace rewrote my story.” Enjoy the song and lyrics here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyOrS3kY8BY

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He Takes Hold of You

I love looking at repeating patterns in scripture. Today, I noticed the phrase in Matthew 14–in the account of a terrified Peter about to sink in the waves–how Jesus “immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him.”

I remembered another time we see God reaching down to take hold of us. In Psalm 18:16, we read David’s words that “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.”

I love the image of God taking hold of us. And it’s not just Peter and David who talk about this. Paul, too, knows about this God who takes hold of us. He writes in Philippians 3:12 how he presses on “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

God takes hold of us. And if you remember, there’s a beautiful moment at the end of Matthew when we read about our resurrected Lord. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 

I think about God taking hold of me as I take hold of Him.

When we are afraid or overwhelmed, we can picture God reaching out His hand to take hold of us today.

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The New is Here

Today I think about all the times “new” shows up in the Bible in reference to our identity.

Today is a day for new, fresh things. Out with the old! It’s time for new wine and new wineskins! Remember all the beautiful promises:

We are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17); God gives us a new song to sing (Psalm 40:3); He does new things (Isaiah 43:19); God gives us a new name (Isaiah 62:2); He will create a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17); He brings new mercies every single morning (Lam. 3:23); He gives us a new Spirit (Ezekiel 11:19); He brings new life (Acts 5:20); He offers the new way of living by the Spirit (Romans 7:6); and God makes us new in the attitude of our mind and gives us a new self (Eph. 4:23-24). At the end of the Bible in Revelation 21, we read how Jesus is making “everything new!”

It’s a new day!

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An Affinity

Last week, I heard someone pray that others would have an affinity for that person. She was serving in an emcee role and so nervous. The person simply asked God that others would feel an affinity for her.

I couldn’t stop thinking of that word and that wonderful prayer. An affinity means a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something. We can pray that our coworkers have an affinity for us, that our family has an affinity for us, or that God supernaturally draws new friends to us because they have that affinity for us.

Affinity! In the Bible, affinity is the idea of finding favor. We see that word when Noah “found favor” with God, when Joseph “finds favor” with the prison guard, when God gives the people of Israel “favor” with the Egyptians to plunder then, when Ruth “finds favor” with the Boaz, when Queen Esther “finds favor” with the king, when Daniel “finds favor” with the leaders, when in Acts, the disciples “find favor” with the people. And of course, the gospel is the story of God allowing us to “find favor” through Jesus once and for all. We have favor with God and others today.

I move out into the day praying that others have an affinity for us. May our children find favor with their teachers and employers and friends. May we find favor in our families and in our work and in our interactions with all people.

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Back to It

After a long break, it’s time for a fresh semester and a fresh writing schedule. If you’re interested in setting a writing schedule to finish a book, I recommend writing no more than 4 hours a day, 2-3 days a week. Essentially, I aim for just 12 hours of writing a week. That’s not bad if you think about it. Of course, some career authors write 8 hours a day 5 days a week. I don’t have that kind of stamina or perseverance. My creative energy wanes after 4 hours.

I love schedules because they remove the emotional component. I don’t wake up and ask myself if I “feel” like writing or if I “want” to write. It’s just what’s next on the schedule, sort of like brushing my teeth, making the bed, or emptying the dishwasher. That’s my best advice for finishing your book (or any project) in 2022. Schedule it! Don’t think about if you feel like doing the work. Try just sitting down (because it’s on the schedule), typing a few words (because it’s on the schedule), and staying there for 4 hours. Take a break every hour, but finish the work. It’s what the schedule told you to do.

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Put Joy In My Heart

This morning, I read Psalm 4 and find the hope of the new year: David recounts a question that “many are asking.”

The question? Who can show us any good? Or, in another translation, Who can bring us prosperity? I think of those who live in dire situations all over the world and those of us in comfortable homes who still feel hopeless or scared about this new year. David provides the answer that suffering Christians have learned throughout the centuries (and especially those enduring persecution at this very minute)–that God can put more joy into the human heart than any external experience could provide.

Lift up the light of Your face upon us, Lord!
You have put joy in my heart,
More than when their grain and new wine are abundant (Psalm 4:6-7).

Psalm 4 explains the joy of the suffering Christian and the hope of the discouraged heart. We can ask God to “put joy” into our hearts today. This won’t make any sense, and it seems impossible, but it is the ordinary experience of Christians to know the “inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8) of a heart who loves God.

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