“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
– Deuteronomy 31:6
One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make took me two years of deep prayer and discernment. Once I had clarity and peace about the decision, it still required more bravery than I could muster to move forward. I needed the Lord to help me move. Without Him, I think I would have been paralyzed in fear to take action.
That season taught me so much about making hard, brave choices with the Lord’s guidance that I can now apply to other areas of my life, and I would love to share those lessons with you today.
If there’s a hard decision or action ahead of you, I’m praying for bravery for you right now. Maybe it’s just for today’s brave, hard things (smaller, daily decisions), or maybe it’s a Big Thing that you’ve been thinking about for a long time, but here are the steps I’ve found to be most helpful in making hard choices.
1. Pray for wisdom.
If you’re unsure of what to do, it definitely takes courage to listen to the Lord’s direction and to discern His will. If there’s something you KNOW you need to do, especially if it’s hard, it probably requires more bravery than you could conjure up on your own.
God is faithful to give discernment as we press into Him and ask for His guidance. When we make our requests known before Him, He listens. His answers may come through the wise people around us, Scripture passages, sermons, or the Holy Spirit, but they will never contradict His character or commandments.
- “I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” –Psalm 16:7-8
- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” –James 1:2-5
- “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” –Psalm 25:4-5
2. Seek wise counsel.
Check in with others who know Him and know you well. Especially on the big decisions! When it seems that God has made the next step clear to you in your own time and prayer with Him, seek confirmation from the wise individuals God has placed in your life. Wise counsel may come from a mentor, pastor, counselor, long-time friend in the faith, or a parent.
*NOTE from a recovering people pleaser 😉 There is a difference here between people pleasing (making your decision to keep others happy) vs. obeying God and checking in with your people (making your decision in and with Christ’s leading). I’ve often found that when I’m just making the decision that “feels right” but I haven’t spent time praying about it first, the wise counsel around me offer gentle, loving, or very clear answers that challenge my decision. Of course, those individuals are all coming from different angles and experiences, but if they love and are walking with the Lord, they can often help you see blind spots or affirm that your next step sounds wise.
- “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” –Proverbs 19:20-21
- “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” –Proverbs 11:14
3. Ask Him to equip you.
I think about ALL of the people in the Bible who probably felt ill prepared to step into the hard, brave things God called them to do. And yet, He equipped them to do His work. Noah, Moses, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, David (in his battle against Goliath), Jonah, Mary, and Paul come to mind right away.
If He has called you to this hard, brave thing, He will not only prepare you for it, but He will also see you through.
- “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:4-7
- “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” –Isaiah 61:1-2
- “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”—1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
4. Take action to do that brave, hard thing.
Once we know the right thing, it can still be super hard to step forward. It requires courage, it sometimes requires surrender, and it often requires great faith that He will take care of everything on the other side of what we cannot see. At this point, with His equipping, we can step forward in obedience.
- “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” –Hebrews 13:20-21
- “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”- Philippians 1:6
– – –
As we consider the hard, brave actions He might be calling us to take, here is a prayer for you:
Lord, we know that sometimes You call us to do hard things.
Help us to hear you clearly– where You want us to go and when You want us to move.
Sometimes, the brave, hard thing is being still. Sometimes it’s just waiting on You, or letting You fight the battle for us. In that case, help us to surrender control and still our own hearts when we’d rather rush ahead.
But when You DO show us the brave, next thing? Equip us for what’s next.
Help us to choose brave, even when it’s really difficult.
Lord, be our strength in the hard things.
-to let go of the unhealthy (things, places, relationships)
-to step into a new season, with both feet and our full heart
-to trust again after hurt (as You lead)
-to advocate for others who cannot advocate for themselves
-to choose joy
-to make the appointment
-to break that habit
-to be vulnerable
-to dream bigger and let You lead in that
-to ask for help
-to set the boundary
-to ask the hard questions
-to love the unlovable
-to love our enemies
-to love ourselves as You love us
-to keep showing up for the things You’ve called us to (our jobs, parenting, ministry, being faithful in marriage, getting up again on the hard days, etc.)
-to take responsibility for our own parts
-to stand up for what’s right
Lord, we know You will fight for us when it’s time. You will bring us to solid ground and plant our feet. And You will lead the way when it’s time to move.
Help us to trust You for the times when we are to be still in bravery, to stay planted in courage, or to
move forward in faith.
– – –
One more goodie: “The Brave List“
Pssst…Dear friend, if you need the extra boost of bravery today, I created another resource to help you. This is called ‘The Brave List’ (12 curated worship songs to help you with strength and courage), and you can listen to it on Spotify any time you need an extra boost of courage. Click here to listen:
P.S. Special thanks to Noah Buscher for the original image in this photo (via Unsplash); “Be strong and courageous” graphic created by Heather Lobe (via Canva).
My name is Heather, and I’m a hope*writer.
When I was a little girl, I wrote in diaries. My best friend and I would write plays for the neighborhood and perform them in the backyard. I wrote poems and even attempted a few novels.
My mom found my “first published book” when she was cleaning recently– a book of poems with my own illustrations and a funny self-written “About Me” section that talked about my many publications (hopeful dreaming?).
When I was in middle school, I won an essay contest called “What Safety Means to Me,” and I drew comparisons between Dorothy’s unsafe moves in the Wizard of Oz and how we can be more aware of our surroundings in today’s world. It was creative, but definitely a stretch. 😉
For college writing and theatre assignments, I loved digging into hard topics that looked at the tension between faith and mental health, or vulnerability and shame, or wrestling with doubt about God. I wrote plays and articles and journalism pieces. I even wrote fun travel blogs from my time abroad in Italy.
Somewhere along the way, though, I started worrying about how others would receive my words if I put them out there. It was too difficult to put the harder things I experienced into words, and I feared what would happen if anyone ever read those words. I kept my words inside, or at the very most, inside of my private journals.
As God’s healing touch has reached down into my life over the past few years, I have come to see that writing is not just something I like to do. It is part of who I am. I write to figure out how I feel. I write to praise God. I write to encourage others that they are not alone.
I’ve been publicly writing again for this past year, and it seems like things have just clicked into place. I understand more about the world and myself, and it feels like an act of worship to the Creator who made me to be creative.
Last year, I took a huge leap of faith and joined an amazing writing community. I went from insecurity about putting my words out into the world to confidence that THIS is part of who I am. I am a writer. I can now say that without imposter syndrome or second-guessing myself 😉
Through this community, I have:
-gained valuable resources to grow in my craft
-built my writing habit (I used to write whenever “inspiration” hit- now it is a part of my regular routine several days a week)
-clarified who I’m writing for (this has been one of the most helpful and freeing areas of growth!)
-made incredible relationships with other writers
-created a weekly guest posting collaborative through Freedom Stories
-started a book proposal
A favorite quote of mine is from “Chariots of Fire.” Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner, says, “I run because I feel God’s pleasure in it.” I am so thankful to Hope*Writers for helping me fully step into my calling as a writer.
I write because I feel God’s pleasure in it.
If you have a dream that has often pressed on your heart or surged to the surface when you let it, what is it? What is the thing you do that makes you feel most alive or fulfilled? What would it look like for you to fully step into that?
Cranberry sauce, sparkly centerpieces, parade floats, a full Thanksgiving table, and an ache that something isn’t quite right…
There are times of the year that tend to accentuate the reminder that I’m a single mom. The holidays are one of those times– I may expect tidings of comfort and joy, but instead am reminded that life didn’t turn out the way I may have hoped or expected. My son is not with me on every holiday, and this year, Thanksgiving is the one where he will be several states away celebrating with other family members.
Maybe for you, holidays are hard because “family” looks different than you imagined at this point in life. Whether you are single, walking through a divorce, grieving the loss of a family member, or the holidays just bring stressful family dynamics to the surface, I want to tell you you’re not alone. Over the past few years, I have learned a few ways to make the holidays feel a little less achy, and I want to share some practical advice, words of hope, and a prayer for encouragement with you today.
1. It’s Okay to Grieve
Holiday movies, commercials, and ads often feature a specific type of family—mom and dad, kids, grandparents, all happy to be together. When I sat through my first Christmas church service without my son, I felt a tangible emptiness in my heart as I looked around at these “whole” families and missed mine. Tears stung in my eyes through “Joy to the World,” because in all honesty I didn’t feel much joy. When sadness rises to the surface at the holidays, I’ve learned not to rush past those feelings or cover it up with festive activities and food, but to let myself grieve. Divorce was heart-breaking and single parenting is hard. The traditional holiday activities and celebrations may accentuate the difficult season you’re walking through, so it’s okay to give yourself permission to feel sad or angry when those waves wash over you.
2. Choose Gratitude Over Comparison
At the same time, I’ve learned that comparison is not helpful. When I put unrealistic expectations on the holidays that don’t match up with my current circumstances, I am bound to feel disappointed. If I stare longingly at the families that look different from mine, I lose sight of the good that God has given me right now. Instead of dwelling on the grief or comparison, I find it helpful to celebrate the blessings of this current season. Last year, I paid my good friend Kristin to take family portraits of me and my son. Those photos are an absolute treasure- a remembrance of the family God HAS given me. I thank Him for my support system, the fact that I have a job, for my apartment and our wonderful neighbors, and the mountain sunsets around me. If you can train your eyes and heart to focus on a few good things each day, it’ll be easier to make it through this season with a little more joy and a little less envy.
3. Chosen Family
Just as God reminded me that Emmett is my family right now, I also believe there is a gift in widening our definition of family. If you have friends who invite you to take a seat at their table for a holiday meal, it might be helpful to say “yes” and be around other loved ones. If you have a great church or support group, those people can be your chosen family to get you through the hard stuff. Even if your current home or family life isn’t a place that brings comfort, safety, or peace, I encourage you to think about the other places in your life that DO give you a sense of belonging. Cherish the time and memories you can make with those people. You are not a burden– I can guarantee those chosen family members are glad to open their arms and homes to include you.
4. Remember, Money Can’t Buy Happiness
One thing I’ve learned over my years of walking through recovery and serving in recovery ministry is just how EASY it is to fill up our empty places with the momentary satisfactions of this world. In a time of aching, we are sometimes tempted to treat ourselves or loved ones to delightful luxuries or creature comforts. But a shopping spree, spoiling our kids to make up for the tough home situation, or over-filling on food and drink will never fully satisfy the ache in our hearts.
“The LORD will guide you always; HE will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:11)
From a practical standpoint related to money at the holidays, we don’t have a lot of money in my one-income household. So each year I intentionally pick one special gift for Emmett. One year it was a beautiful easel and art supplies. Another year, a friend helped me hand-paint small wooden buildings that represent my son’s favorite places around Roanoke to accompany his train set. This past year, I invested in a year-long membership for the two of us to the local transportation museum. The joint membership was less than $40, and we probably went 10 times this year. Every time we visited, it was a reminder of a special Christmas present and created opportunities for new memories together.
5. Make New Memories
Speaking of new memories, this may be a good time to establish some new traditions. For us, we make new ornaments by hand and watch lots of Christmas movies with popcorn and hot chocolate. We take drives to see the Christmas lights in local neighborhoods. We bake a lot- even if it’s the cheap slice and bake sugar cookies or banana bread with extra chocolate chips from our leftover bananas that week. While old traditions may bring up bittersweet memories, think of new ways you can celebrate this season with friends or loved ones.
6. Take Care of Your Heart
Take a walk, have a peppermint latte with a friend, or sing Christmas hymns with a local choir. Stop to breathe in the crisp winter air and look up at the sunsets over the bare trees. Pay attention to what you need, and don’t be afraid to take care of yourself too. If you’re like me and you are quick to make sure everyone else is okay, now is a great time to check in with your heart and make sure you’re getting the space, time, and love that brings YOU some health and joy in this season too.
7. Remember Those Who Are Hurting
One of my favorite recent holiday memories was from a Christmas that Emmett was not with me. Instead of staying at home and feeling sad, I chose to get up early on Christmas morning to serve breakfast with my church for a few local shelters. We sang songs, ate lots of bacon, and the kids had an indoor snowball fight with big white cotton snowballs. It took my mind off of my sadness and reminded me of the bigger picture of this holiday season. Think about ways you might be able to bring encouragement to others in your life or community this year (joining a Thanksgiving 5K for a good cause, baking cookies for an older person in your neighborhood, offering to watch a single parent’s kids so that they can shop, or serving at a local animal shelter or rescue mission on one of your Saturdays off).
8. Think About the “Reason for the Season”
While Thanksgiving prep takes hours or days of time, the meal is often over within 45 minutes. While the weeks leading up to Christmas can bring a flurry of shopping carts, gift wrap, parties, and high expectations, it can be really good to remember that Christmas itself is only 24 hours of the whole year. It also helps me keep things in perspective to remember the “reason for the season,” by dwelling on the season of Advent. Advent begins shortly after Thanksgiving and carries us through the month of December, by preparing our hearts for the coming of our King. I remember that while my holiday seasons are sometimes filled with sadness or longing, the Israelites waited expectantly for the Messiah to come for thousands of years. There are some wonderful devotionals that can lead you through simple Scripture or prayer prompts, with the reminders that ultimately this time of the year is a time of expectant waiting and celebration.
Last year I worked through Ann Voskamp’s Advent book, The Greatest Gift. This year I’ll be using my friend Jessica’s Christmas devotional Wonderful. Another activity that could involve kids would be a Jesse Tree series of ornaments which include one ornament and a verse to symbolize different parts of the Christmas season for each day leading up to Christmas. Emmett and I have a set of handmade ornaments from our church, but you could easily find a set online (a quick Amazon search pulled up this set for less than $10).
No matter what it is that makes your breath catch in your throat when you think of the holidays, I am praying for you. Sweet friend, here is a prayer just for you:
Dear God, We believe that your Word is true. We thank you that you are close to the broken-hearted. That you are redeemer, a perfect Father, and a great comforter. Father, I pray for my sister or brother that is reading this prayer right now. Embrace them closely within your loving arms. Remind them that you are right there with them in this hard season. Father, give us wisdom in how to handle our time, finances, and emotions in the coming days and weeks. Remind us Lord where we can show others, you, and ourselves love during this season. As we remember the period of longing for Christ, remind us Lord that YOU fully understand longing, suffering, and most of all, redemption. Fill us with hope, Lord, that all will be well. We love you Lord, and we thank you for the true reason for this holiday season- the birth of our Savior and our rescuer. In my season of longing, grief, or sadness, I thank you that you are right there with me. Amen.
– – –
P.S. Special thanks to Kristin Dunker Photography for my favorite pictures ever of me and my family! 🙂
Recently, God has been placing reminders on my heart to slow down.
This summer, I finally recognized my own addiction to busyness but my schedule still looks quite the same.
This fall, He whispered to my heart that in order to heal through grief and forgiveness, I need to make space for my body to breathe. I haven’t quite found that space in full.
I continue to try to make room in my week to celebrate the Sabbath, but I still struggle with giving Him my time and my rest, uninterrupted from other focuses and commitments.
The truth is, I struggle to “be still” because I still try to be god of my own life.
I scramble and manage and run and burn-out. I am busy and hectic and live my life in chaos, with momentary glimpses of rest before I’m back to the hustle and grind again.
I wrestle my schedule into place and worry about money. When my life feels out of control and I am at my worst with anxiety, I try to control the people and circumstances around me.
None of these things bring stillness.
Because none of these actions or patterns recognize that God is sovereign.
“Be still and know that I am God.” -Psalm 46:10
So I am learning. Slowly.
That I am not God.
That a knowledge of this fact requires deeper knowledge of my Savior.
That being still is not a to-do list item but a matter of stilling my being before the Sovereign Lord.
If you also struggle with being still, I wrote this prayer for us. Feel free to list your own reminders and gratitude of God’s goodness at the bullet points.
Lord, I praise you because You are mighty. You are sovereign. You hold this world and my world in Your hands.
I ask for Your help because I cannot do this on my own.
Father, help me to view this world through wide-eyed observance, wonder and awe instead of the narrow lens of a cell phone camera and my crowded calendar.
To start my day savoring the Word instead of consuming the words and images of strangers in my incessant scrolling.
To stop clinging to control of my schedule, money, relationships, so that I can open my hands to receive simple joys…
- A small red leaf in my path in the midst of the yellows and browns
- The warm sun splashed across the pillow on a Sunday afternoon
- The autumn breeze rustling the ground
- The smell of muffins baking in the oven
- An acorn that reminds me of my Grandmother
- A warm mug of cinnamon tea shared with a friend while our children play with wooden trains
- The plant on my doorstep from a sweet friend to encourage my blossoming creativity
- An enveloping hug from the person who loves my whole heart
- The laughter of my son
- A glorious sunset of peach and orange, with a hint of winter in the air
Lord, my heart longs to be still rather than running through my week without stopping. Lord, I desire to be still and breathe rather than gasping for air. Lord, I’m ready to be still and surrender control.
Father, I trust you to lead.
Help me to follow
ready to listen and receive Your truth
ready to give, with Your guidance
ready to be
– – –
What are the things you notice when you slow down? What would you add to the prayer? Is this a struggle for you too?
P.S. Thank you so much, Leah Kelley, for offering this handful of acorns to the public domain via Pexels. It was the perfect fit for this post.
“Close your eyes. Plant your feet, shoulder-width apart. Relax your arms and let them rest by your sides. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and slowly expand your stomach, your core. Fill it all the way. Picture a string pulling directly through the crown of your head up through the ceiling. Lengthen your spine. Keep your feet rooted to the ground.”
I grew up participating in community children’s theatre. Through middle school, high school, college, and my young adult life, musical theatre was a huge part of my schedule, my dreams, my passion, and my identity.
During warm-ups and exercises, we often heard instructions like the ones above. We had to be centered in our own bodies before we could step into the characters and lives of others. Whenever we practiced this centering exercise, I pictured myself like a strong oak tree. I imagined my long spine and body as the trunk. My feet, connected to the earth, grew deep and stretching roots into the soil beneath the floor. I envisioned life- I imagined full leaves, colorful fruit, a mother bird in her nest- all supported by this strong, rooted body.
This morning, I listened to Ephesians on my way to work. I heard over and over the command to stand firm. I was instantly brought back to the image of standing in a black box theatre in college in a circle of my peers, with feet to the floor and invisible strings through our heads to the sky.
In truth, there have been many times in my life where I have been more like a weak and flimsy weed- whipped back and forth like the wind, tossed to and fro by the waves and storms of life. And often it was because I was trying to stand firm on my own or through the support of others around me.
When I took my eyes off of my Savior, I looked to my own strength to save me and I sank fast and deep. In the times when I looked all around me for comfort or comparison, I forgot who the Creator made me to be. As I frantically scrambled for security in this world and tried to find reliable and steady things to lean on, I built a life based on the temporary fulfillment of accomplishments, love, and financial stability. When I trusted the changing and chaotic things in this world instead of the Lord, my trust in God’s ability to carry me slipped away like sand through my fingers.
However, in the past few years God has taught me so much about rooting myself in Him. The times when I HAVE felt planted are those when I have not relied on my own abilities or solely on the strength of those around me, but rested in the Lord’s care and provision. In those times when HE has been my planting, He has allowed me to walk through earthly circumstances of confusion, unknowns, and chaos with a sureness that He has it all in His hands.
When I walked through divorce and heartbreak, I cried out to Him. He brought me joy and community instead of depression and isolation.
When I struggled with the deep ache for more children in my singleness, God brought me a sweet contentment in the family He HAS blessed me with, instead of doubt or jealousy.
When I walked through times of instability due to financial crisis or job changes, He removed my fear and brought me an understanding of what His “peace that passes all understanding” actually feels like.
Even when our circumstances do not lend themselves to security, I truly believe it is possible to stand firm in this world BECAUSE of Christ. Here are 5 important ways I’ve learned to stand firm in this world:
- Recognize that strength drawn from anything else in this world is a halfway strength. The only way we can get through some of our hardest times and our brightest days is to recognize Christ as a strong, solid ground on which we can stand. Through Him alone, we can find the full strength we need to get through any circumstance.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV)
- Know that suffering transforms us. This present darkness or trial is building in you maturity, a stronger faith, and the ability to persevere through hard things in your future. Christ is our Savior who understands suffering at the deepest level. When we suffer, we are able to lean on the Lord for our wisdom and trust that He will graciously show us the way forward. Suffering brings us closer to Christ and sanctifies us, making us holier, humbler, and more complete.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind,” (James 1:2-6, NIV)
- Acknowledge that no thing or person here on earth can ever possibly love you or bring as great of fulfillment as our heavenly Father, who perfectly loves us. When we KNOW the height and depth of His love for us, we can grow deep roots and become grounded in His love for us amidst our changing circumstances. His love for us will never change.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God,” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
- Practice gratitude. Instead of getting swept up in the waves crashing around us and focusing on the storms and struggles of this world, we are given the powerful spiritual tool of gratitude that grounds us with a Kingdom-focus. An awareness of the good things keeps things balanced on the hard days, and trains our hearts and minds to scan the landscape for the ways that the Lord is protecting, providing, and showing His great love for us. Whether you keep a mental checklist, write a note in your phone, or keep a daily gratitude journal, I challenge you to find 3-5 things each day that you are grateful for. I promise, it will start to shift your eyes from the chaos.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1)
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him,.’” (Lamentations 3:22-24)
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV)
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,” (Hebrews 12:29)
- Put on your armor. I’ll end with this, as this is the passage that inspired my thoughts about standing firm in the first place. The Lord gives us many powerful ways to protect us against the chaos of this world. When we root ourselves in His Truth, we can stand our ground and be ready for anything that comes against us in this world.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:10-17)
While my image from my theatre days focused on the strength of my own body and mind, I know now that my true strength, peace, and hope in this world comes not from myself, but from the Lord. I pray that you would know that Christ is a solid rock on which you can build the foundation of your whole life. He will not let your feet slip when you plant yourself in Him.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
-The Solid Rock (hymn), Edward Mote, ca. 1834
– – –
Special thanks to Emily Lewandowski who generously provided the picture for this post through her work with Unsplash.
- Recognize that strength drawn from anything else in this world is a halfway strength. The only way we can get through some of our hardest times and our brightest days is to recognize Christ as a strong, solid ground on which we can stand. Through Him alone, we can find the full strength we need to get through any circumstance.
I laced up my sneakers and packed all of the essentials for my longest training run yet- 11 miles. Breathing in deep through my nose, I pushed off against the greenway path and steadied my pace. Mile by mile, I prayed for the individuals whose names were in my pocket on a 3×5 note card. With the rhythm of my feet on the pavement, and the sound of the rushing water with the river next to me, I entered into a time of communion with God. The rest of my week was packed full and overflowing, loud and chaotic, but in those long runs? It was just the Lord, a chance to clear my mind, and the beauty of the open sky above. When my lungs or legs grew tired, I flipped my index card over to remind myself of that day’s meditation. For that run, I prayed over Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
I had coffee with a friend, and we talked about the times of life where everything feels overwhelming and complex.
We looked over at her sweet baby, napping in the booth next to us. We sipped on hot coffee in paper cups and talked about the seasons of life where we can’t see the path forward. We talked about the fog and the paralyzation of depression. She and I both have encountered the darkness of depression and the crippling weight of anxiety, and we’ve known in those times that God is there. But He has also felt far away.
On those hard days and in those dark seasons, getting out of that pit can seem like a daunting, long road. Even if others could show us a charted path towards healing and towards intimacy with Christ–even if there are steps or courses we could take–we likely feel like that is more than we can handle.
I am one who likes a good plan. I like to know the 12 steps I can take to find peace, the 3 things I can do today to feel less anxious, the 10 Scriptures I can meditate on to remember that God is light in our dark times. But what if even those “simple steps” seem too daunting? Sometimes 12 steps are too far ahead of what I can see, and that particular long path seems overwhelming. And 10 Scriptures? How do I pick where to start? Thinking about the 3 things I can do TODAY reminds me of the 17 things on my to do list that I haven’t done yet, and all of it seems like more than what I have the energy to tackle.
So we can start by asking for manna.
In the Bible (Exodus 16), there is an incredible story about a group of people (the Israelites) who were delivered out of slavery in Egypt by a man named Moses. As Moses and another leader named Aaron led the Israelites out of Egypt, they entered into a wilderness, where there was nothing to eat. The people complained to Moses and Aaron that they were going to die of hunger.
God spoke to Moses and told them that He would take care of the hungry people.
“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Exodus 16:4-6)
The bread from heaven was called manna. God made these daily provisions for the people, even with meat (quail) in the evenings. Moses said that through these provisions,
“At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against the Lord.” (verses 6-7)
When they went out to collect their bread for the first time, like flakes fine as frost on the ground, they asked what it was. Moses reminded them “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” He repeated the commandments of how they were to gather it, ensuring that each person would have plenty to eat– “enough for their fill that day.” And He warned them not to leave any of it over til the morning.
BUT if the people feared that God would take care of them again the next day, and tried to gather more than their daily portion? The warnings were that the leftovers would either melt with the heat of the sun, breed worms, or smell.
And yet… what happened?
“But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it til the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.” (verses 20-21)
God had to re-remind them that they were to just take enough for one day at a time. Their lack of trust in Him required repetition- that He would provide, and then God showing again and again that He would in fact do it.
The people ate the manna for forty years, until they came to a new land.
Every day for forty years (that’s roughly 14,600 days), there was manna.
How often do I get ahead of myself and try to figure out the next steps on my own? How many times have I been in seasons of waiting when I begged (demanded) that God show me the whole path ahead? How frequently have I stressed about provision, with crippling fear that He won’t take care of me? How many days have I woken up and thought about everything I needed to do that day, without a thought of prayer or consulting with God to lead the way? I cannot tell you how many journals of mine are filled with confessions of not trusting God to lead the way and trying to take control back into my own hands.
Sitting with my friend, I was reminded that there are some seasons where we are just called to simply rest. In the daily act of surrender to Him, we get to stop wrestling and just ask HIM to be our fill. When we let Him show us one step at a time, one day at a time, He is faithful to give us a way forward. Sometimes they are baby steps- tiny morsels. But as my friend shared, morsels can be savored. With gratitude for the flavor that comes with each small bite, we can remember that He carries us through the wilderness and is faithful in His provision and protection over us.
There are some times where we don’t need to chase down complex systems or plans, but just go back to the basics:
Just choosing one verse to pray all week long.
Reading a psalm before bed. Just one.
Stretching in the morning and thanking God for the morning light.
Taking a walk and noticing the droplets of dew on the grass, or picking a few small flowers to carry in your hand.
Sitting for a longer period of time than the busy schedule might seem to allow for coffee with a sweet friend.
Making a homemade meal and thanking God for the ingredients, for the home in which to cook it, for the body that it nourishes.
Asking Him to show us the next right thing and learning to be still and wait for HIS guidance.
There are some days where we just have to ask for manna, and trust that God will bring it.
And sweet friend? He will.
A Prayer for Manna and Morsels
Lord, we ask for a taste of a manna today. You tell us in Your word that Your mercies are new every morning. Will You show me a new mercy today? Help me to have eyes that are opened to see Your miracles- Your provision in the daily needs that get me through this day; Your care and compassion for Your people, including me; Your sovereign knowledge of my life, that I can trust that You know the way and will guide me to walk in Your will, even when I can’t see the whole path forward. Forgive me for the times that I try to take control or look to other sources to be my guide. Lord, I open my hands to receive Your lavish love — help me to savor every morsel that You give me today.
*Special thanks to Simon Wilkes and Isaac Mehegan who provided the images to accompany this post (via unsplash).
|| O P E N ||
A suddenly free day created an expanse of time for thought around this word.
To lay beneath a tree and look through the clearings, between the branches, to take in the expanse of pure blue sky.
Space for Sabbath rest, a run by the river, cooking the stew that reminds me of my best friend.
To hold hands open, gentle, soft for whatever is placed in them.
To remove clutter, extra, the unhealthy and the unneeded. To make space for the healthy and good.
To hear other people’s stories without judgment.
To create room for those who are different than me to feel heard and loved.
Allowing my own feelings to rise up without self-criticism. Letting go, as with a breath, those that are not healthy or helpful. Holding on to what is true and will create growth.
To let love in again after deep pain and sorrow.
Noticing the September around me.
What does the word OPEN mean to you today?
When I was a kid, my family used to go camping in the summer and fall. I loved the smell of the woods, and the familiar drive into the state park that we visited. The trees enveloped us as we drove farther down a winding dirt path, away from towns and highways and the hustle and bustle of our normal daily rhythms. On those trips, we fished, hiked, swam, ate good food, and sat around the fire at night telling stories or singing songs. Some of my sweetest, most relaxed and joyful memories from my growing up years are from those trips.
My favorite part of those camping adventures happened in the evening, right around dusk. My brother and sister and I gathered sticks and small branches from the woods, excited for the taste of smoky marshmallows and melted chocolate s’mores. Finally, after much anticipation and excitement, my dad would start the fire. On those evenings, under an open sky, serenaded by crickets, I sat and watched the sparks catch onto the wood and slowly build into a bright crescendo of light. Any time I catch a hint of the smell of woodsmoke, I am instantly transported back to those sweet, nostalgic camping trips.
I grew up in a Christian home and church, and adopted a life verse pretty early on in my walk with the Lord:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16
This verse became a mantra- I often said it to myself in lunch rooms or gym class when tempted to react with a less-than-kind response to others. I listed it as my favorite quote in my senior yearbook, and had the reference of Matthew 5:16 engraved on the inside of my class ring.
The problem was that I was externally motivated. I shined as brightly as I could, but my focus was on outward good deeds, always wearing a smile, and the appearance of having my life all together. However, sometimes those good deeds had ulterior motives (really, I wanted to be SEEN as good), the smile was often just a mask, and my life wasn’t all together. So I wasn’t really being honest with myself or others.
It’s easy to sense a false light source. On those camping trips, sometimes we would have to use our flashlights to carry us through the woods to the bath houses. The battery operated flashlights would barely cut through the darkness, and when we returned to our family campsite, it was a welcome relief to find the swell of light and warmth coming from the fire. Sometimes when I look back on myself during those periods of life where I claimed Matthew 5:16 as my badge-of-honor-life-verse, I think I reflected more of a harsh fluorescent office light (the kind you’d rather turn off because it hurts your eyes) or a flashlight that barely lit the path forward, rather than a pure source of light and truth.
Over the years, I’ve become keenly aware that when we admit our weakness there is more room for Christ’s light to shine through. If we can’t admit our brokenness, it’s hard to see the need for a Savior to redeem and restore. I now know that when the light shines through from a deeper internal Source, it is lasting, it is pure, it brings warmth, and draws other people to it, like a cozy campfire on a chilly autumn evening.
The light cannot be generated by us if we truly want to draw others to Christ– it has to come from Christ alone. In my younger years of faith, I often let others know that I was a Christian by offering up stock answers to hard questions, quoting Scriptures, and making lists of my good deeds and activities. But I really wasn’t worried about praise for my Father in heaven… I think I can see now that I was much more concerned with praise for myself.
The best way I can draw others to Him is by abiding with Him, sharing how He has changed me, and letting His love flow into the lives of others around me with sincerity and genuine care.
- “Remain in me, as I remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” -John 15:4
- “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” -Psalm 119:105
- “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” -John 14:6
- “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” -John 8:12
When I am abiding in the Lord– spending true time in prayer, reading His word consistently (daily), praying for others, digging into the work He wants to do in my life– I find that I stop worrying about “turning on” my light like a lamp switch. The light starts to flow more naturally because the source is eternal, pure, and I am able to love others well without selfish motives. THAT kind of light is the light He calls us to be.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather be gazing up at a thousand bright stars next to a campfire than forging my way ahead with an inauthentic light source trying to dazzle others to Christ. He doesn’t need me for that. He is the brightest Light on His own. We are a mere reflection or a vessel for it to shine through.
A few extras just for you:
A passage for you to read: John 15:1-17
A song for you:
Some questions for you to consider:
- Are you comfortable showing your own brokenness, or telling the story of how God has brought healing to your life?
- Do you point others to Christ just in your words or the smile on your face?
- What do your actions look like on any given day (especially when others aren’t looking)?
- What is your motivation in serving and loving others?
- What does that “abiding” look like for you?
*Special thanks to the wonderful Ian Keefe, Toa Heftiba, and Jonathan Forage for the images featured in this post.
Four years ago I walked through the doors of my church for a recovery meeting. I was really there to try to support… help… okay, fix another person that I thought could benefit from the meeting. What I found was how deeply hurting I was, and how I really needed the support and help to recover from my own hurts, habits, and hang-ups.
Celebrate Recovery became a safe place for me to take off my mask, understand myself and my issues better, and find healing in a Christ-centered recovery program. [Celebrate Recovery is an international program started at Saddleback Church with Rick Warren and John Baker in 1991. The program is now offered in over 35,000 churches, prisons, rescue missions, and colleges worldwide].
Over the past four years I dug deeper to the root of my issues, completed a 12-step study, attended a CR conference last summer in the Nashville area with 3,000 other people in recovery (it was AWESOME), and entered into leadership at our church’s CR ministry. I now mentor other women, help lead the Newcomer’s class, serve as the co-leader for the Monday night worship team, and am passionate about recovery in all aspects (not just my brand of recovery). This is part of the life work I know I am called to do, and I am so thankful for the way this ministry opened my eyes to the pain and struggle of others (outside of my own “stuff”). At the end of the day, we’re a room full of people who love the Lord and want to be real about where we’ve been, but also find hope in where God can lead us next.
The first step of recovery (for ANY area in life) is stepping out of denial; admitting that we no longer have control. In the language we use at CR,
“We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. -Romans 7:18
Once we admit that we do not have control over those compulsions, those painful areas of our lives, or other people, change is finally, truly possible. But first we have to get to that point of unmanageable–the out of control, rock bottom, heart break that life cannot go on like this any more.
Each Monday, for the past four years, I have introduced myself in this way:
“Hi, my name is Heather. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, and I am in recovery for codependence, anxiety, and divorce.”
We introduce ourselves in this way to first of all recognize that our greatest identity is found in the Lord (our addictions do not define us!). We list our areas of recovery second to keep us out of denial– there is something very vulnerable about sharing those struggles out loud… but also extremely freeing to know that there are others who can relate, encourage you, and spur you on to greater growth. Once we say them out loud, those secret heavy things we’ve been carrying around for so long start to have a little less power. It is then that we can finally get to work.
At some point I would love to tell you more about codependence and God’s journey in my life of shifting my identity away from extreme people-pleasing to finding my identity in Him. And I’d love to tell you more about these 12 steps that completely changed my life.
But this week, what’s heavy on my heart is that my busyness is no longer something I can manage. It is officially… unmanageable. I have shared before with friends, family, colleagues, and my recovery friends that this is a deep-rooted struggle that has been a part of my pattern of existence for as long as I can remember. High school was stacked full of the hardest academic classes I could take, school plays, band, student council, church youth group, private flute lessons and voice lessons, a touring show choir, and a restaurant job. When I got to college, I promised myself that the fresh start would allow me to hit re-set. It didn’t take long for me to pick up new roles and routines that were jam-packed into my days, along with trying to find more balance for a social life. But that meant lunch dates and coffee dates and weekend outings with girlfriends and more things packed in than I could handle. I kept pushing. When I would come home on Christmas and summer breaks I would just sleep for the first 2 or 3 days home, only waking to eat. My mom would ask me what was wrong, but I was just purely exhausted.
My adult life at 30? I could post a picture of my calendar here but I think that would only prove a point I’m finally coming to see– my own pride. A sense of self worth in how much I can juggle before breaking. I think there are roots of this busyness habit that are very much tied to my codependence (identity based in what others think/not wanting to let others down), but there is fresh, new work to do here. There are new layers to address about how I find a sense of worth in performing well, and coming to REST in the identity God has given me instead of one I create for myself or how I am perceived by others.
As this realization really started to hit me this week, in yet another cycle of burnout and exhaustion and a 4th of July Wednesday that involved sleeping and “wasting” half of my day off, I realized…. unmanageable. For how much I CRAVE rest, peace, stillness, rhythms that feel intentional and slow, why have I not been able to change this pattern? I picked up a book from my bookshelf that I started reading two years ago. But this message is right on target with the reminders I need right now, in handing over my whirlwind of a lifestyle to God and STOPPING. To learn to be more present than perfect. To be more still than successful. To have peace when I sit in quiet instead of a frantic to-do list constantly running in my head to do more, or to be more.
There was an ah-ha moment for me when I hit this passage in Shauna’s book:
“You can make a drug– a way to anesthetize yourself– out of anything: working out, binge-watching TV, working, having sex, shopping, volunteering, cleaning dieting. Any of those things can keep you from feeling pain for a while– that’s what drugs do…
Most of us have a handful of these drugs, and its terrifying to think of living without them. It is terrifying: wildly unprotected, vulnerable, staring our wounds right in the face. But this is where we grow, where we learn, where our lives actually begin to change.”
So on that note friends, I am ready to take step 1 to admit that my busyness has become unmanageable. I’m ready to strip it away and look at the wounds and meet change.
“Hi, I’m Heather. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ. And I am addicted to busyness.”
This week, the greatest joys after making this realization were the moments of stillness and stopping to pay attention….
I realized that every time I get in the car I use my voice-activated Siri and tell her to make a note in my phone about new things to add to my grocery list, my to-do list, my writing list, or to send a text message for me. My boyfriend (a wise man who gets me/my heart) challenged me to use my car rides for prayer or worship time. I loved it on the first morning…. but by the afternoon I auto-piloted into making a phone call when I got in the car. It’s deeply ingrained, but I am making progress by taking note, giving myself grace, and making heart adjustments.
I wanted to work through lunch on Tuesday (a particularly busy/stressful day), but instead took a midday run through 90 degree humidity (I packed shorts, so don’t worry, I wasn’t running in a dress). I listened to a thought-provoking and centering podcast with J.A. Medders and Tony Merida about Christ-centered writing [Home Row, episode 31]. I let myself run slow up hills, and I took mental note of every single beautiful, simple thing I saw. I literally stopped to smell flowers. I waved at people I passed. I looked goofy, I’m sure, jogging in the heat, with a big happy grin on my face. But I felt peace.
I spent time digging into Romans and DELIGHTED over all of the exciting ways the Word came to life. I could not get enough! So this weekend, I am unplugging. I am going to pay attention to where my sinful tendencies rise up to cover up any emptiness with activity, and I am going to work on being more present with my son and the people God has me with each moment. I hope you can do the same, one day at a time, one moment at a time.
If any of this struck a chord with you, I’d encourage you to press in. Take note. Maybe sit with the question for a few minutes in a quiet place…are there any areas of your life that feel unmanageable/out of control? It’s okay (even freeing) to admit it to a safe and trusted friend… that’s where the healing begins. If I can pray for you let me know – I’d be honored.