Posted in Faith, Mental health

“Let Your Heart Smile”

It’s been a hard year. I think many of us are in a place where we could agree with that statement. For me personally, it hasn’t been a bad year, but yes, it’s been hard. The shock of when I first read those two words – “global pandemic.” The uncertainty of what this virus actually was. Would it hurt me, or my loved ones?

The adjustment to schooling my children at home. Which I welcomed, in fact…because I was afraid. And I wanted nothing more than to hide them under my wing, here at home. But eventually, that initial comfort turned into the daily frustrations of coping with my children’s boredom, and their resistance to doing the schoolwork that was important, but at times frustrating. I felt my mental health declining under the strain of their constant demands, the lack of alone time, and the sense of disorder and chaos within my home. As the school year and then the summer finally drew to a close, I welcomed the chance to send them to school and preschool again…though warily, because…how would they cope with all the new restrictions? The masks? The constant sanitizing? Being chained to a desk? Or, being prevented from something as natural and normal as interacting in close proximity to their peers?

Whatever the case, it didn’t last long. A few months later, and they were back at home again, and everything was shut down. There was nowhere we could go. Some days, I felt as if my mind was literally slipping away. I watched frontline and essential workers become celebrated heroes (and rightly so), but felt nameless and faceless at home with my kids, doing and doing and doing, without recognition, while politicians scolded us from our screens for questioning their methods. Money was thrown around to people who already had plenty. I began to worry about economics. How would our country pay off so many irresponsible expenditures? Why were wealthy people profiting even more from pandemic handouts?

Then my church split, and my heart broke. It wasn’t caused by the pandemic, but was complicated by it. I felt anger, at times, rise up within me like some unfamiliar, wild beast. I didn’t know I was capable of such. But the divisive issues that I saw everywhere brought out the worst in me, as they also did in others.

As the new year began, we kept putting our feet in front of each other, but our pace had decidedly slowed. Promises of normal gatherings and celebrations that had been dangled in front of us like carrots were pulled further and further away. I began to wonder what was more deadly – the virus itself, or the toll of trying to avoid it?

Finding myself, now, halfway (!) into the year, my province is in the midst of a ‘third wave.’ (I wonder how long they will keep numbering the waves.) The weather is gorgeous, my children are happy and healthy and laughing, the seeds are sprouting, the trees are green, and the flowers are blooming.

And yet, I seem to be stuck, in this rut of sullenness. I don’t blame COVID, necessarily. I blame habit. And I blame my own focus. My own gaze.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 NIV

I ask myself the question: Where am I looking? Am I looking only at the things that infuriate and depress me? Am I fixated on areas of lack, want, and trouble?

In the midst of this, I have heard a simple phrase, whispered gently to me beneath the mental clamour of my own complaints: Let your heart smile. Perhaps, because the Lord knows I am tired of cliché sayings such as “look at the bright side,” “be thankful,” and “practice gratitude,” He has provided an alternative wording which speaks directly to the condition of my heart – which seems to be operating from a misguided, twisted sense of duty. As if I must remain upset about the world’s problems, or as though I will change them by continuing to sulk about them. But in doing so, I am turning away from the joyful things that surround me. And in doing so, I am refusing to let my heart smile.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Luke 12:25-26 NIV

So when I look out my window and see a beautiful June day; as I watch my children run, giggling, through the sprinkler; as I see the faces of women on a video call who want to interact and pray; I have begun to allow myself to be filled with joy. There is no use fighting it. God has given reasons for my heart to smile. No, it’s not something I can muster up. It’s a gift that God is offering, that I need to stop throwing back at him. As a tree does not grimace or strain to overflow with fruit, so the fruits of God’s Spirit are not produced by my efforts.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

I thank you, Lord, for the fruit you produce in our lives, that we cannot bring forth on our own. I thank you, Lord, that we may leave all the solutions to the world’s problems up to you. I accept the peace, and joy, that you want to give to me. I will allow my heart to smile. And maybe, even my face as well.

How are you doing, and what are you smiling about today? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Work, Trade, and Purpose

In the evenings, my husband and I usually watch TV shows together. We’ve gone through “The Office” a few times; we’ve watched lots of “Star Trek”; we I watched “Anne With an E” (my husband distracted himself with his phone during this one); we’ve watched all of “This is Us”; and recently, we attempted “Grey’s Anatomy” but gave up on it when we got tired of fast-forwarding nearly entire episodes to avoid the sexual content. Anyway, the show we are watching now is “The Chosen.” You may have heard of it – it tells the story of Jesus from the perspective of surrounding characters. It preserves the biblical account, but with lots of artistic imagination about how the events may have interacted and worked themselves out. One thing I love about the show is how it reminds me that the people of the Bible were real people. They joked around; they got into trouble. Jesus camped. (For some reason, that’s something I hadn’t thought of before.) You know all that time He spent travelling, or in the wilderness? Don’t you think He would have set up a tent and made a fire?

In an episode we watched recently, Jesus is on one such “camping” excursion, when He is discovered by a group of children, who (quite expectedly) cannot keep themselves away from this fascinating, funny, kind, and wise man. As they gather around Him, chatting and listening to His words, He gets them to help with His work. He is making things out of wood – spoons, locks, toys, and who knows what – and they help with whatever menial tasks they can do. He explains to them that He has a “trade,” but He also has a job much bigger than His trade. He doesn’t really say what it is, but we now know that He became the sacrifice to pay for all sin. So that God can be reconciled to humans, so that we can be part of His family. That was His over-arching purpose.

Nonetheless, I was perplexed at how happily and busily Jesus and the children worked with their hands, while discussing all sorts of other things. It got me thinking about this idea of a “trade,” one’s “work,” and how it relates to one’s overall “purpose.” It is something that has always been of dear importance to me, since I was a child, and was one of the most troubling things about making the decision to stay home with my kids. What is my trade? What is my purpose? There was a time when I thought the answer to both of those questions was “music therapy.” Now, I usually don’t know what to think.

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Maybe, because it discusses in depth these very same issues. So I went back to re-read it this morning, and the following two verses stopped me:

“My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NIV

In these verses, Solomon says that all of his work – though it felt rewarding for him to do – was meaningless, and nothing was gained by it. I’m sure we have all, at some point, reached the end of a long work day and thought something similar. Perhaps this realization is even more distressing when we’re under the belief that work is the main part of life. Which is what I thought for a long time, until having children taught me the opposite. Because if my kids are not distracting me from the work I think I should be doing, they are creating all kinds of additional work that I didn’t originally want. And yet, they, and all of my time that they use up, are of immense importance. I know it in my bones.

Because although my trade may be homemaking, writing, music therapy, or teaching piano; I also have a job – a mission, if you will – that is much larger. It’s simple, because it’s the same one Jesus had; the same one we’re all supposed to have. Like Jesus, my over-arching purpose is family. My own nuclear family, and the wider family of God. To love them; to serve them; to figure out how to be (and stay) in healthy relationships with them. This must be why Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

But what of the “trade”? Is it unimportant or bad? If it were, why would Jesus have worked as a carpenter? Why would Paul have made tents?

Is this a good mantra for life?

We need our trade. Work is a basic human need, right up there alongside food, which is why I think Paul cautioned that “[t]he one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV).

In light of all of this, here are the observations that I glean about the nature of our “trade” during our lives here on earth:

  1. My trade is not the main part of my life. Without an over-arching purpose to go along with it, the work of my trade is meaningless.
  2. My trade is still important. It is a gift of God, and a privilege by His grace, to fill my basic human needs. It is also rewarding, in and of itself.
  3. My trade is enough. I doubt that, as Jesus worked as a carpenter, He beat Himself up about why He wasn’t building something larger or more important. I doubt that either He or Paul lamented having to work with their hands when they were actually gifted teachers. “All in good time,” as they say, or, more accurately – “All in God’s time.” We absolutely will fulfill our over-arching purpose in our lifetime, if only our hearts are willing. The results, however, are up to God.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for getting this whole idea of work wrong. I love that you have given me both a trade, and an over-arching purpose, and I thank you for them both. I ask that you would enable me to be both content with, and dedicated to, the things that you have given me to do. May I not become lazy or negative, in neglect of my trade. And, may I not neglect my true purpose, which is family – both mine and yours – in favor of my trade. Amen.

How do you understand the nature of work, trade, and/or purpose? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

It’s Easier to Be Angry

It has felt like my prayers are “bouncing off the ceiling,” as they say. My journal, normally filled with long, sprawling, written prayers and copied Bible verses, has only been sparsely notated – dutiful entries, sometimes only one line, containing the date and a reference to the scripture passage I read. I’ve felt lonely during my times with the Lord. The times that are normally my water…have felt kind of empty and dry.

What’s going on? The scriptures hold a key.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Mark 11:25 NIV

“‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Matthew 6:12-15 NIV

I’ve lost a friend, and it feels a bit like a bad break-up. Day after day, my bitterness and anger linger. They fester, and grow. I dwell on all the negatives; the hurtful things she has said and done. Meanwhile, the good memories from before – from when I thought she was like a sister – fade and almost disappear. Eventually I convince myself that surely, I was wrong about her. Surely, our latest interactions prove who she really is. Who she really was, all along.

I know that God requires me to forgive her. I’ve asked Him to help me do this, but haven’t made much progress. There’s a song by the Dixie Chicks that could have been written about me in times like these:

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time
To go ’round and ’round and ’round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is
You think I should

“Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks

Truth be told, though, I don’t want to stay here. I can’t. So I asked the Lord one evening: What is holding me back? Why can I not forgive?

A perplexing thought immediately came to mind: It’s easier to hang on to the anger.

Easier? Easier than what?

Than remembering the good times.

Why?

Because you must face your grief. You must mourn what you have lost.

The tears flowed, and they flow again even as I write this. Yes, facing the hurt and loss and mourning that things may never be the same between us again, is harder than rehashing the things I am angry about. Sometimes we think that anger is strong. But in actuality, it requires more strength to turn from anger than it does to remain in it.

“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”

Psalm 37:8 NIV

“‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV

And yet, that is what I must do. I must remember her for the laughter. The times we prayed for each other. Brought each other food. Watched and loved each other’s kids. All of that was real. Those memories can soften my heart, temper my harsh feelings, and allow me to view her in a balanced way.

In all relationships, you will eventually see both the good and the bad of a person. To be accepted in the fullness of yourself – in all of the good, and all of the bad – is an act of grace. If you have experienced this yourself, you know how great it feels. If you truly know Christ, you have experienced this grace. And He expects you to extend it to others.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

James 3:9-10 NIV

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV

At church recently, my pastor reminded us from the pulpit that our forgiveness of others is one way we show the world what Jesus is like. Is Jesus full of anger, resentment, and offense? Does He never let go of our sins? That hasn’t been my experience of Him. And as His follower, I desire to show others that He is someone they would want to get to know.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Psalm 103:8-12 NIV

Maybe things have permanently changed between my friend and I, and we need to go our separate ways. Maybe things will never be the same. Then again, maybe they will be someday. She’s still my sister in Christ, so perhaps when we get to Heaven, God will sit us both down (the two unruly daughters that we are), and talk us through our rivalry. Whatever the case, for the time being, I can love her from afar, and remain open to the possibility of reconciliation. It’s what I hope she will do for me.

What do you do when you experience divisions within the family of Christ? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below!

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith

On Coming Home

Recently, my family and I attended church. At church. For the first time in a year. As we entered the building, there was a sign with a picture of a house on it. On the bottom it read: “Welcome Home.”

There’s nothing like a world-wide pandemic to make you miss what you’ve never really had before. Amidst all the cries of faith-filled people that I have heard, wishing to gather with their church families, my voice has been, for the most part, silent. I am not quiet out of dissension, but from a place of what I would attempt to describe as perplexed shame.

Home. Has the church ever been home to me, in all these years? To some degree, yes. But in order for a place to be truly home, one needs to move in. And in order to move in, one must unpack. All of the boxes, bags, and containers. The new, exciting things. The old, worn-out things. The mementos. The things you love. The special items, and the mundane. Some things you should have gotten rid of years ago. And yes, even the dirty laundry you wish you had washed before you got there.

By unpacking, you bring your entire self into the environment. The things that you unpack reveal who you are. The good, the bad, the ugly. A true home must be home to your fullest self.

And once you have moved in, the work begins. You clean, maintain, and fix. You organize, arrange, plan, and make the place fit and welcoming for habitation and use. This work never stops, and many hands are needed. If you want to live there, you contribute. You don’t complain about menial or lowly tasks. And you learn to work together with the people who share the space.

You get hungry, and thirsty. You all do. So you share a meal. You pray over the bread, and break it. You eat together. You digest. You have a drink to wash it down. You’re thankful. It’s too good to keep to yourselves, so you invite guests in to share. The food and drink have a never-ending supply. Often, the guests decide to move in permanently. And you welcome them.

Sometimes, you play. You get to know your family better. There are young people, old people, and people from all kinds of backgrounds and lives. You learn to appreciate them all, because this family is formed by adoption. Dad wants lots of kids. And He likes variety.

When you get tired, home is a good place to rest. Dad says, that’s what He’s there for. And for recovery, when the outside gets to be too much. His arms are always open, and He says that ours should be too.

No home is perfect, and neither is the church. Even there, the rules meant to protect us get broken. Families fight, and people get hurt. The doors get busted in, and things are stolen. But when we pray: “Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven” – I think that what we’re really asking for, is home. And the Church is the place that home begins.

So maybe it’s time to move in. To work, and eat, and play, and rest. Maybe it’s been too many years of ducking in and out of the family gatherings, sitting in the back, and taking all my stuff with me when I go. Maybe it’s time to unpack, and settle in for good. (I wonder what that would look like.)

Have you gone back to church yet? What was it like? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Parenting

Making the Home a Haven

As September 2019 approached, I remember asking God for a direction that I should focus on in the year that was to come. I got the distinct sense that I was to put my efforts into making our home more of a haven. This was going to involve household organization, cleaning, decluttering, and making sure I regularly had time and energy for things like cooking, doing dishes, and doing laundry. It was also going to involve being emotionally present for the people in my family – as simple, sometimes, as sitting quietly around the table with them after their long days at work and school, ready to listen and respond.

The message on the pot is self-explanatory. The plant, however, is plastic. 😉

At this point I had been a mother for 8 1/2 years, and with the progression of time, God had been steadily and stealthily peeling my clammy grip from education and career pursuits – one tightly wound finger at a time. However, choosing the home as my over-arching focus for the foreseeable future, was still not my natural bent.

And as the beginning of 2020 brought with it the commencement of a small music therapy contract, and a speaking opportunity scheduled for the upcoming fall, I began to wonder if I had heard wrong. Maybe, I would soon transition back to working outside the home.

Nonetheless, March 2020 happened. God had known that it would. Our lives outside the walls of home ground to a halt. Even my son’s schooling moved to the dining room table – and stayed there for the majority of the year. My inbox was inundated with cancellation messages. There would be no music therapy sessions to lead, no piano lessons to teach, and no speaking engagement in the fall.

The realization that God had been preparing me for that very moment filled me with gratitude and joy. I also came to understand that making the home a haven was not only important for my family – it was important for me. As a bit of what they call an “HSP” (highly sensitive person), my surrounding environment has a large effect on my mental state. When the chores get done, the laundry and dishes are put away, and there is a place for everything, with everything in its place, I am a much happier person. These things affect my husband and kids too, but probably not to such a large extent. After all, I am the one who spends the most time within these walls. I think that by directing me to take care of the home in advance, God was protecting my mental health at a time that would stretch it to the brink and back, time and time again.

If having kids has put a damper on my love for candles, electricity and batteries have renewed it! These little candle holders are from a past music therapy client, and they remind me of ice blocks. The wax warmer was a gift from my husband, and fills our home with wonderful scents.

Progress has been slow, and my home still isn’t perfectly put together. I don’t know if it ever will be. But I’ve made a lot of progress! Pandemic or not, home is important. Much time is spent there. So, it may as well be a place that you want to be.

Here are some of the ways I have been working on making our home a haven:

  • As I’ve alluded to in the past – decluttering. There is much more to say on this topic, so it will probably be its own post at some point. I’m very proud of the amount of things I’ve gotten rid of, and have been enjoying the results.
  • Decor. A few carefully chosen knick-knacks that bring me joy, an artificial plant or candle here and there, and beautiful pictures on the wall, give my eyes a place to rest; while the calm, blank spaces in between provide room for my imagination to wander.
  • Recruiting help. Should a stay-at-home-mom require the assistance of her family members to complete all of the household tasks? I won’t even begin to argue a stance on this highly controversial issue, but I will say that doing everything alone was really not working for me. So Saturdays have become housecleaning day, and everyone pitches in to get the bathrooms cleaned, mess put away, and floors vacuumed. Many hands make work light, and we are usually finished by 11 am. During the week, then, I am free to focus on other cleaning/organizing tasks, dishes, laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, taking care of the kids, and (if needed) my son’s remote learning.
  • Organization. Something as simple as $2 bins from the dollar store, to conceal my office supplies, which are all sorted into recycled jars inside the bins, has relieved much of the anxiety I used to feel about my haphazard desk area.

No home is perfect, and neither are the lives within its walls. I could regale you with stories of struggle and hardship, as anyone could. But a home can be a soft place to land, at the end of it all. It can cushion the inevitable fights and heartaches. It can bring rest to minds that are weary of chaos and unpredictability. I pray that my home would be a sacred space of peace and order, filled with the presence and protection of God. And I pray the same for yours.

How do you feel about your home? Let me know in the comments below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health, Parenting

Decluttering, Prayer & Fasting, and Emotional Wounds: A January Update

It’s been a long time since I just wrote about what’s been happening in my life. And honestly, I am not feeling very inspired when it comes to writing blog posts! I don’t have any big ideas to share, and the things that I would want to write about, I wonder if anyone would be interested in except myself. (Maybe I’ll end up writing about them anyway.)

A big focus for me lately has been decluttering my home. This is one of the things I may write about in a future blog post. It’s been a slow process, because I get sentimental about objects and agonize over each thing that I try to get rid of. But between selling things online, donating them, and using the trash bin once in a while I am gradually getting the house to where I want it to be. The exciting part, for me, is seeing a space that was previously cluttered with junk now open and available, and making it pretty with objects that I actually want to look at each day. My husband got me an Ikea gift card for Christmas, so I am planning to use that to buy some fake plants or a new piece of furniture as a sort of reward for getting rid of so much stuff.

My church is having its annual prayer and fasting month, a topic that I wrote about more in-depth last year. It’s been quite meaningful for me thus far, and I’ve been keeping track of insights and how the Lord is guiding me in my journal. One of my main personal prayer requests is a direction for my career in the future. But in response to all my petitions God has really pressed upon my heart the huge value of making my boys my priority right now, loving on them as much as I can while I have the chance. I get a very heavy impression that this time in their lives is pivotal in the spiritual sense and will impact their futures in countless ways. This realization has renewed my strength, focus, and dedication to be what they need in a mom. It is still difficult some days, as I often wrestle with inner struggles, fatigue, boredom, and frustration.

To expand on that last word – frustration – we have reached nearly two months here in Manitoba of being under extreme restrictions due to the pandemic. I haven’t been able to see family or friends, even during Christmas, aside from a few brief curbside visits; large portions of stores are completely blocked off so that we only buy essential items; and pretty much everything else is closed. I could go on but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I am holding out for the day that I am able to go out and buy a “non-essential” 2021 calendar! I love paper calendars, I hate using the one on my phone, and I need to keep track of meals and other events somehow. I’m running out of space on the bottom of the December 2020 page…

My messy meal plan

Moving back to prayer and fasting – another topic that has come up (somewhat unexpectedly) is relationship struggles. I feel that God has shown me I have a severe wound of rejection that hinders me from being able to connect with people the way that I desire to. This wound has come from a variety of situations throughout my life. If not for God, it would have been a fatal wound. The picture that comes to mind is of several swords in my mid-section, which is cut completely open. I’m sorry if this is a disturbing image but quite honestly, I have had great peace in this realization. God is like that. He sees not only my mistakes and sins, but the pain that lies behind them, and He desires to heal me.

And if there ever were a time to practice not taking things personally, not bearing grudges, and behaving decently despite differences of opinion – it would be now!

I know there is a very real possibility of things continuing to shift and change in 2021, both worldwide and in my personal life. This sometimes causes me to fear. However, I am encouraged by another picture that came to mind during my prayer and fasting time: an earthquake, causing fractures along fault lines that were actually all there in the first place, though we may have been unaware of them. I think this has been a time of adjusting, exposing, breaking, shaking away excess, and re-considering. I know that some not-so-nice areas of myself have been revealed lately, and shown for what they are. Now, I can fight them off through prayer with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I pray that you will stay strong in the Lord this year, and I look forward to reading the posts of all my favorite bloggers as I am able to do so in the coming months.

With warmest wishes and love,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health

Mindsets for Overcoming Self-Doubt

Self-doubt. It can be crippling. For some of us, it lurks around every corner. It causes frustration, bitterness, resentment, and even despair. It makes it difficult for us to accept criticism. It can change us into competitive, envious people who are unable to rejoice at the success of others.

But we don’t need to let it win.

Self-doubt is a demon that I know too well. As a stay-at-home mom who hopes to return to work again someday, I often feel as though I am on the bottom rung. The task before me seems overwhelming…even, impossible. Yet, this aching need for a purpose beyond my walls does not go away.

In the midst of this, my thought life can be a game-changer. What I believe about other people, myself, my past, and my future will change how I behave, and the decisions that I make. From one self doubter to, perhaps, another – here are some things to remember when you find yourself in that pit.

Remember the compliments, not the criticism

Yes, criticism can be constructive. However, if you are like me, it can tear you right to the ground – especially when you’re already in a position of weakness. These are the times that we need to also remember the compliments that people have given us over the years. Perhaps it is more natural for you to meditate on the criticisms. This may happen unintentionally. So, let’s be intentional about what may not come as easily – running the positive things that people have said about us through our minds, over and over again. You may want to write a few of them down. Are there any commonalities? What are the good things that people have called out of you? These can direct you towards future paths.

Pass the blessing on to others

After you have practiced gratitude for how others have encouraged you, you will have a greater understanding of the impact that your words may have on others. Is there someone you can encourage today? Someone else, who, perhaps, has been feeling a little beaten down? Do you see strengths in them that you can help them to notice? The Bible says “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Give it a try, and experience this truth. Everyone has influence – either for the good, or for the bad. This includes you. You have the ability to change the lives of others, for the better.

Turn envy into blessing

Nothing defeats the power that envy has on you, like turning it around on its head. That woman who has what you wish you had? Tell her how amazing she is. Tell her you admire her for it. When I have practiced this, it has softened my heart towards people I would have otherwise harbored resentment for. It has also released me from the captivity that envy is. Yes, you can – appreciate others for the strengths and good qualities that they have, without it taking anything away from you, and who God made you to be.

Embrace humility

One verse that has continually challenged me is Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (ESV)

There is a perplexing relationship between self-doubt and pride. Pride insists that a person be the best at everything, and have the best of everything, which leads inevitably to failure and self-doubt. A humble person, however, understands that this is an impossible stance, and that they are no better than the next person. It is ok, natural, and good to be less-than what you see in others. A humble person knows there is more to life than how they rank.

We are each given struggles as well as gifts. And our gifts, by definition, are acts of grace – completely undeserved. Acknowledge them for what they are, and realize that every other person is given both struggles and gifts as well.

Find purpose in the here-and-now

Everybody needs a sense of purpose in order to be healthy. Self-doubt can stem from a fear that you will be unable to fulfill purpose in your life. If you question what your purpose is, look around. Look right in front of you. Where have you found yourself? What must you do in that situation?

Are you at home, with your kids? If so, you have found a purpose: love your kids, keep them safe and fed, and try to stay sane! Are you sick in bed? Rest, and get better. In the middle of a huge argument? Work towards resolution and do what you can to reconcile. In a job you don’t like? Do it to the best of your ability, while praying about and researching other opportunities.

If you are like me, you may think too far ahead into the future sometimes. Your purpose in 5 or 10 years may not be very clear right now, or it may seem impossible. However, I am willing to bet that your purpose for today, for this very moment, is something that you can identify and achieve.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 6:34 ESV

I understand that your self-doubt may be more complicated than the points I have outlined here. Nonetheless, I hope that by focusing on the compliments, passing on blessing, overcoming envy, embracing humility, and finding purpose in the here-and-now, you will find yourself in a place of greater peace than you were before.

Do you struggle with self-doubt? What is your advice on how to overcome it? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Mental health, Parenting

A Letter to my Local MLA

Hello Mr. Goertzen,

I have two small requests as a stay at home mom affected by the recent school, preschool, park, church, and recreational facility closures in my home community of Steinbach.

Although I find it unfair that we are the only school division to be closed, and suspect that government motives behind this closure may have something to do with the voices of protest in our community that have recently made themselves known, I have been supportive and followed all of the rules presented to me.  I am working with my son to keep him on top of his remote learning.  I do not take an extreme stance on one side or the other on issues such as mask wearing, closures, and lock downs.  I choose to believe that for the most part, the authorities in place are doing their best with the information that is given to them, so I have complied with all of the protective measures that have been taken.

Only recently have I begun to feel like my rights are being violated.  As one of many parents who are relegated to small city yards with young children, I am wondering why the safe, outdoor, recreational opportunities in our community are shut down tight.  Although a generous neighbour on our street has set up a skating rink in the park, it is closed and cannot be used.  We also have a wonderful play structure in the same park which cannot be used.  The toboggan hills have opened up, and we are thankful for that.  We have gone sledding 4-5 times already.

I am no expert but I am aware that virus transmission outside, in open, cold air, under UV light, is extremely unlikely.  Could we not simply limit the numbers of people using a facility (such as a play structure or skating rink) at one time?  Contrary to what the media may portray, it has been my experience from living in the community of Steinbach that the vast majority of people are extremely cooperative with every restriction.  I feel that I am being slapped on the wrist for something I have not done, under the assumption that I will be uncooperative.

Another rule that I feel is extreme is not allowing drive-in church services.  I have been content (for the most part) to make do with the online services offered by my church.  But I believe it should be acknowledged that churches play an enormous role in the mental health and well being of community members, and disallowing people from visiting their places of worship and supportive communities for such a length of time is bound to have severe consequences.  I wonder how many cases of addiction, abuse, mental illness, divorce, and even suicide have been averted thanks to the wonderful work of churches in our community.  It is time to acknowledge the vital role that they play and stop viewing churches as an adversary.  Restrictions on churches need to be reasonably loosened, as soon as possible.  If I can see a doctor, purchase medications, or even buy alcohol or cannabis to help medicate my psychological and emotional struggles, I should be permitted to attend my church for the same reasons. The disallowance of even orderly, drive-in church services feels to me like blatant disregard and disrespect for their precious role in many people’s lives, not to mention acts of service towards the community such as providing free food and clothing, cleaning up garbage, sharing facilities for school graduations, sharing parking lots for school pickups and drop offs (when bussing has not been provided), etc., etc., etc.

In summation, I am asking that outdoor recreational facilities be opened for limited use in a community affected by school closures, and for some evidence that the government values churches to the point of making them more accessible to the people who need them.

Thank you for your consideration.

Posted in Faith

“A Beast of Burden”

“How are everyone’s devotions going?” I asked a few friends several weeks ago, during one of the precious few in-person meetings we’ve been permitted to have, since…you know.

The room fell silent. Some women looked away. Others slowly shook their heads. I felt bad for asking.

Years ago I heard Joyce Meyer talk about spending daily time with God. With reference to busy mothers, she had asked in her typically pointed way (which I love) – “Well, what can you do? Lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes to pray, if you have to.”

This simple statement has motivated me when ‘quiet time’ is virtually impossible. A few months ago, I re-evaluated my devotional plan. At the time, I had been reading through Ezekiel. But when circumstances dictated that both children be home full time, and supervision of school work was added to my list of responsibilities, Ezekiel felt like a little more than I could handle. I wasn’t looking forward to my devotions any longer, and began to avoid doing them.

So I decided to take a break from Ezekiel for a while and go directly to the source: the words of Jesus Himself. I found a long stretch of red letter text in Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount), and began to read it very slowly. I sampled different translations, and found that they added layers of meaning to the text. Since translation is not always a straight-forward process, and words are tied to the history and culture in which they are used, different versions of the Bible can relay varying aspects of what was originally meant.

Recently, I stumbled upon a verse that grabbed me in a new way because of one such alternate wording. In Matthew 21, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem shortly before His death and resurrection (otherwise known as the “Triumphal Entry”) is documented. There, I read a verse that has become quite familiar to me in NIV:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” Matthew 21:5 NIV

However, here it is, in ESV:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” Matthew 21:5 ESV

A beast of burden! The CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) translates it the same way. A quick perusal of Britannica.com informed me that this is a common term of reference for a ‘pack animal.’ Donkeys, in particular, have been used for bearing loads for as long as six thousand years. According to Britannica: “In many places in the world, the use of pack animals is the only feasible means of transporting a load.” Donkeys “are surefooted and can carry heavy loads over rough terrain.” And where horses cannot survive, or people are too impoverished to own them, “donkeys are the main beasts of burden and source of transportation.”

Surefooted. Carrying heavy loads over rough terrain. Able to survive where horses cannot. Available to people who are poor. Transporting from one place to the next.

The only feasible means.

Could there be a better way to describe the Savior Himself?

Jesus’s association with this animal was not a coincidence. He had specifically sent His disciples to fetch the donkey from a complete stranger, knowing in advance that it would be there, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.

And like the donkey, our Lord is humble and gentle. Like the donkey, He bears the loads that are too heavy for us to carry, and He does so without complaint. Like the donkey, He is essential – especially, to those who are poor.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:3 NIV

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:7 NIV

I wonder how much easier it would be to spend time with Jesus daily, if we remembered that He is willing and able to bear the heavy loads we carry, over the rough terrain of our lives. That He is the only means of transportation – from one season of life to another, and from this life to the next.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”

Psalm 68:19 NIV

What burdens can I give to the Lord today?

The burden of worry. That my life, and those of my family members, won’t turn out alright.

The burden of control. He is God. I am not.

The burden of feeling unloved. He made me, and knows and loves every intricacy of my being.

The burden of this day. I am not alone. He is with me in every task. He leads and directs me.

I invite you to spend some time with Jesus, and allow Him to hold your heaviest troubles. Which burdens will you give to Him? If you would like to share about it, comment below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Faith, Parenting

The Beauty of Inadequacy

I jog for a lot of reasons.  For the health benefits, and the feeling of well being it gives me.  For the hope that it will tone my legs (besides doing a number on my knees), and maybe even shrink the roll of baby fat that uncomfortably spills over my waist band.  For the cool, crisp evening air; and the refreshing guzzle of lemon-tinged ice water to follow.

But perhaps, the greatest benefit is the release of my nervous energy at the end of a day.  With each steady, plodding fall of foot upon pavement, my sneakers pound the questions that I’ve grown tired of asking.  Many of them have to do with parenting.  Questions like:

How can I do right by my kids, in every situation?  Are my husband and I steering them in the proper direction?  Are we giving them what they need – always, infallibly, with no developmental area neglected?

One area that I struggle with, for whatever reason, is team sports.  I wasn’t very good at sports growing up, and always felt bad about it.  Therefore, my intention with my own kids was to involve them in it early, so they could develop the abilities I never had.  However, after one and one half seasons of enduring mini soccer alongside my first child, I realized he had little to no interest – and surely did not see sports as implicit to his sense of self-worth, as I had as a child.

On the other hand, he has always loved water and enjoys swimming lessons whenever I’m able to send him.  He also loves to be with friends – goofing off, running around, and playing games – so the kid’s club at church was a win.  I think that this is all great.  But I still worry that I’m shortchanging him, especially when I hear other parents talk about kids who are heavily involved in sports.

As I thought about these things while jogging one evening, and my angsty trudging finally gave way to exhaustion, breathlessness, and its requisite calm, I remembered the Lord. “Please,” I prayed, “let there be nothing neglected.  May there be no inadequacies in the upbringing of our kids.”

His reply came as swiftly as the words left my mind.

“But it is in the inadequacies that I do my greatest work.”

At once, my mind flashed images from my life.  A collage – not of my proudest moments, but those of failure, weakness, lack, and disadvantage.  And I knew in a moment…

My inadequacies, though disappointing, have taught me humility in the place of pride.  They have caused me to refrain from drivenness and instead, to embrace contentment.  They have helped me to develop compassion and mercy, where I would have otherwise been critical and judgmental.

Character is of great value, to Him.  And the way that we treat others.  Can we love them?  Are we even capable?

Give up the selfish ambition.  Then, maybe.  Discover a sense of worth beyond achievements and accomplishments.  Then…perhaps.

If so, that is the best possible outcome.  For myself, and for my kids.

I will close with some of the passages of scripture I could stand to read every day.  And as always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Philippians 2:1‭-‬4 NIV

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
James 3:13‭-‬18 NIV