What’s Next?

Last year, I took my commitment to grow as a communicator to another level when I attended the Speak Up Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I signed up to attend again this year, but was stressed over the time away from my family and the time off from work. I almost backed out.

I’m thankful I made the trip, because it was exactly what I needed. I didn’t believe it was possible for this year’s Speak Up Conference to be as outstanding as last year’s, but it exceeded my expectations again.

I reconnected with friends, made new ones, and learned a wealth of new information from the remarkable staff of publishing and speaking professionals. I’m summarizing my time at the conference this year differently than I did last year, because this year’s conference was a heart check.

The conference was exactly what I needed because I was reminded of a few things.

First, I was reminded God loves the broken and uses us too.

That’s all He has, because we’re all broken and we all, deep down, want to know our lives matter. We all want the day in and the day out of our lives to mean something, to know it’s not all a waste.

Sometimes, it’s easy to think there’s no way God could or would use the mess of my life for His kingdom purposes. But He has, He does, and He will.

Second, I was reminded why I do this.

God gave me the gift of writing, so I write to share my story, others’ stories, and the story of Jesus and how I’m learning to follow him wholeheartedly. I write to encourage, inspire, and connect. To give hope, to make you ponder a question you’ve never asked before, to make you laugh or cry. To help unlock a memory stored away. I write to help you see someone in a different light, or help you start the journey of forgiving, or put into words what you can’t seem to.

I write to pass it on.

If my experiences teach you something, reveal a truth, make you think about something you’ve never thought about before, or simply make you feel less alone, that is enough.

Lastly, I was reminded of Who this is all for. It’s all because of Him and for Him. When I gave my life to Jesus decades ago, I told Him to take it all. I meant it with all my heart, but I had no idea what I was in for. All I knew was He loved me and I didn’t want a life without Him. I’ve said yes to Jesus again and again since then and I’m saying yes now.

So what’s next? What do I do with all my ideas and dreams?

I’ll seek Him and pray. I’ll keep following Jesus, living my life, and loving the people God gave me. I’ll serve my family, do my job, and look for ways to love others. Prayerfully, with a heart to do it all well. I’ll learn as I go with plenty of mistakes. I’ll pray for opportunities to teach and serve and share my stories. I’ll write and I’ll dream.

And I’m more ready and determined than ever to live like it matters and inspire others to live like it matters.

What about you? What are your dreams and what’s next for you?

 

Photo by Raul Petri on Unsplash

 

 

 

Looked After

I lingered too long with my coffee yesterday morning. I planned an Independence Day run in my favorite park but didn’t start as early as intended. Orange cones already lined the street into the park to guide the throngs of firework watchers showing up to stake their claim to the best spots. I maneuvered my car through some of the cones to park in my usual space.

My run started better than expected and I felt good despite the heat. There were more people out and about at the park. Biking, walking, running, or preparing for their picnics. I ran through neighborhoods, around the school, then back to the park.

My run still felt okay but I was hot. I ran on the edge of a parking lot when I nodded to an older gentlemen driving a golf cart. He stopped the cart and motioned to me. I noticed he wore a cap with the park name on it. I wondered if he was an employee.

I walked to the cart and the man asked how long I’d been running. I answered him, then he asked how far I had to go. I told him, “three more miles to reach my goal.”

I must have looked overheated and thirsty. He handed me an ice cold water bottle from his cooler and told me to take it with me. Then he told me to take it slow. I opened the water bottle and drank fast. He looked concerned. I thanked him and turned to walk away. He said, “wait I’m not finished yet.”

He spread a small towel in his lap, filled the middle of it with handfuls of ice, and pulled the corners of the towel up around the ice. He put the “ice bag” behind his neck, on top of his head, under his chin, on his wrists and told me to do the same to cool off. I stood there with the bag behind my neck as he told me to be careful. He warned me of the heat again and I had a fleeting sense of familiarity.

He mentioned how he planned to celebrate later with his family and beamed when he talked about his grand children.

I thanked him again, reached to shake his hand, and asked his name. His eyes brightened, he shook my hand, told me his name, then asked mine.

Before he drove away, he said, “Marie, glad to know you.”

It wasn’t until this morning I discerned the familiarity.

The man on the golf cart reminded me of my father. Not his appearance, but the things he said and how he said them. His makeshift ice bag and demonstration of its most effective use. His going above and beyond in his care about such a small thing as me being too hot.

It was Dad who saw to our wounds when we were stung by yellow jackets or scraped our knees. He did the mean stuff. He dabbed our cuts with iodine or squeezed our splinters to the surface to pull them out with tweezers, and told us to stop whining about it.

As he aged, his care became more tender. More advice and prayers than tending wounds. Moving things or fixing broken ones. Letting us borrow what was his and always helping when he saw a need. Sometimes he helped before I knew I needed help.

Dad looked after us.

I finished my run. I took the man’s advice and slowed down, and it may be the reason I finished. I think it was another one of those times I needed help and didn’t know it.

 

Photo by Arleen wiese on Unsplash

 

Courage Giver

I received the best kind of text this morning. A spontaneous one from a friend who thought about me, then texted me to let me know she thought about me. That would have been enough to make me smile but she sent a powerful message of encouragement and some verses for me to think about throughout the week.

Her encouragement turned a manic Monday into a happy one.

Another friend and I are wrapping up our study of Ephesians this week, so I was reading the final verses of chapter 6. Paul ends the letter telling the believers at Ephesus he is sending Tychicus to them.

Ever heard of Tychicus? I’ve read his name several times, but I skimmed right over it without a second thought. His name is found in Acts and other letters and it’s obvious Tychicus was close with Paul and an important part of the ministry. Paul called him a beloved brother and a faithful minister and sent the man to update them on what’s happening with everything. What makes me wonder about this guy, Tychicus, is what Paul says about why he is sending him.

I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.   Ephesians 6:22

He says the exact same thing in Colossians 4:7-8. He sent Tychicus to encourage their hearts.

Paul knew what it was to be discouraged and feel weighed down with doubt and worry. He knew the pain of loneliness and fear and remembered how words of truth and encouragement were vital during his darkest seasons.

When Paul couldn’t do it himself, he sent Tychicus to give courage to weary hearts. To strengthen weakened faith. To uplift downcast faces. To give hope and light and love.

We are told to encourage one another too. (2 Corinthians 13:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:11) And do it daily, as long as it’s called today. (Hebrews 3:13)

Because every one of us needs courage.

We don’t know what each person is facing each day, but we can guess from personal experience it’s hard a lot of times. A kind word from a friend can bring a moment of sweetness in the most terrible day. Someone cheering us on can give us the extra push we need to keep at it. A note reminding us of God’s promises can lift us from sadness and help us keep believing the promises.

My friend sent a text. Paul sent Tychicus. Both were courage givers and God only knows what good happened because hearts were encouraged.

 

For more information about Monday School, visit the Monday School page.

 

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

 

To Those Doing It Anyway

Monday School is inspired by my Saturday morning run and Paul, formerly known as Saul, and the anonymous writer of Hebrews.

Saturday morning is one of my favorite times of the week. I ran earlier than usual and saw several friendly faces on the trails last Saturday. I saw some not-so-friendly faces too. It’s easy to see who is happy to be there and who is not. I passed several couples, and usually, one was cheerful while the other was merely tolerating the morning activity. One couple drove around the park in a golf cart and it was the same way. She smiled as they made the turn around the big tree, but he seemed irritated at the whole thing. One woman walked the trails humming a tune. Later, I smiled at a young man who frowned with the same intensity as he ran.

The people with the scowls on their faces were probably really nice, but maybe they’re not morning people and they’d rather be in bed early on a Saturday morning. Or maybe their significant other asked them to come along. Or maybe the doctor told them they need to move their bodies before it’s too late. Whatever the reason they were out there, this is for them.

And it’s for you and me and anyone out there doing hard things when we don’t feel like doing anything. Or doing the right and good and hard things when we could be doing easy things.

Way to go! Because it means something when we do what we know we should do, when we’re not feeling it. It’s important and it matters.

To do the work, when we’d rather play.

To study for the test to learn, instead of barely passing.

To workout, when we’d rather sleep in.

To say something for someone’s good, when it would go better for us if we were silent.

To forgive, when we’d rather not.

And to love, when it would be easier to turn our backs and walk away.

Paul said a lot about doing hard things. He made many references to athletes, their training, and the races. In his first letter to the Corinthian believers he wrote, “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.” 9:25-26

He wrote “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14

When Paul spoke to the elders at Ephesus he said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”  Acts 20:24

Then near the end of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  2 Timothy 4:7

Look at the words Paul used: discipline, training, press on, aim, complete the task, fought, fight. Those are the words of a man that didn’t always feel like doing what he was doing. But he did it and he did it well. He knew his purpose, he fixed his eyes on the prize, and he did what he knew to do.

Fellow journeyer, it’s okay if we don’t feel it all the time. It’s good and right to do what we know to do even when we don’t want to do it. We press on, we aim and we fight.

Then God gives us the moments when we do feel it. We feel the compassion and grace, the tenderness and thankfulness, and the extravagant love. We feel it down deep in our souls and it brings a smile, unexpected tears, or an unreserved joy.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us:

“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Jesus started it and he’ll finish it…..now let us press on and fight the good fight.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Full House

I’ll share what’s been on my mind all day, although I’m not sure it qualifies as Monday School.

Yesterday, we celebrated Father’s Day with the grill going outside and the sound of the U.S. Open in the background on the inside. That’s the way we celebrated Father’s Day when Dad was here. I always thought Dad should get a break from the grill on Father’s Day, but he didn’t see it that way.

Now my husband mans the grill for all the other dads and when he’s finished with that, flips the channel back and forth from golf to rodeo.

We laugh and talk around the table. The uncles tease the little ones and the boys throw the football in the yard. The kids play tag and climb the rope swing and we pose for pictures in front of the prettiest tree.

Here we are, in the same house, all these years later, celebrating the important days much like we used to. Our house was full on Christmas and Mother’s Day and some other days too. It will be full again soon. Same love, new generation.

Good people, good food, good times.

And all I could think about was grace…..God’s boundless, beautiful grace.

 

Photo by Aral Tasher on Unsplash

 

 

Our Trademark

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:34-35

I’m not sure why, but the second verse was rolling around in my head all weekend and it prompted me to read the passage where it’s found and then some.

These words found in the Gospel of John are part of the final instructions Jesus gave to his disciples before he was arrested and crucified. With his public ministry completed, Jesus spent the last hours before his arrest with them.

I wondered about the new part, because this is not a new command. ‘Love your neighbor’ was part of the Mosaic Law from the beginning. Matthew Henry said in his commentary, “it is like an old book in a new edition corrected and enlarged. This commandment had been so corrupted by the traditions of the Jewish church that when Christ revived it, and set it in a true light, it might well be called a new commandment. Laws of revenge and retaliation were so much in vogue, and self-love had so much the ascendant, that the law of brotherly love was forgotten as obsolete and out of date; so that as it came from Christ new, it was new to the people.”

The commandment was new in experience. For the first time, the people had a perfect example of love in human flesh and they were about to see it in an even more powerful way.

So, love is how everyone will know we follow Jesus. It’s our thing….our trademark.

Love. That’s how everyone will know. It’s not the church we attend. It’s not our denomination, education, or accumulation. Our traditions, rituals, network, or political views. It’s not our Facebook posts, YouTube channels or Twitter feed.

It’s our love for one another. And it’s not just the kind that says the right words.

John wrote in his first epistle: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.’ 1 John 3:18

Then I remember what it says in Paul’s famous love passage:
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”  1 Corinthians 13 MSG

Without love, we are nothing. We are ambassadors of Jesus, commanded to love like he did.

It would be easier to finish this post using the collective “we” because it keeps me from having to look closely at my own life and asking myself, “do people know I follow Jesus by the way I love others?”

But I can’t dodge the question and I can’t compare myself to others. I’m commanded to love as he has loved me and honestly, I mess it up a lot of the time. Most of the time. On my own it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

He never asks us to do something without giving us what we need to do it. And what He has given us is Himself.

Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”

Without love, I am nothing.

Father, thank you for Your love and grace. Show me how to love others like You love me. Deliver me from the love of my own comfort and make me willing to serve others. Make me more and more desperate for You and keep me in the light of Your love. Show me Your ways and align my heart with Yours, so I see others the way you see them. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a steadfast spirit within me. I love You.

Photo courtesy of Joanna Schley

It’s Back

I paused Monday School for a short time but I’m bringing it back.

What is Monday School?

From the time I could read, I’ve talked about what I’m reading to anyone who will listen. When I was a girl this happened when my sister and I played school. Most of the time, I was the teacher and she the student, though I never minded being the student. A good teacher is always a good student first.

Not only do we learn as we read, we continue to learn as we meditate on, share, and discuss what we’ve read. The Bible is no exception.

The Bible, especially, is meant to be read and thought about. A lot of times I’ll read a passage and one verse or phrase will stick in my head until I’ve considered it, asked questions about it and shared it with others. My intention is not only to share what I think about it, but to cause others to ponder and ask questions about it as we discuss it. Yes, I will teach and explain sometimes but only with a desire for the hearers to read and think about it for themselves. Mostly I want to have a conversation about it. I’m a fellow journeyer – learning to love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind and learning to love others well. I have a long way to go and the journey is better with others.

On Mondays I will share a passage, verse or phrase that’s stuck in my head. I’ll call it Monday School. It’s a little like Sunday School but not really because there isn’t an attendance chart or gold stars for memorizing verses.

Maybe sharing what’s stuck in my head will get it stuck in your head too and we can talk about it until it isn’t stuck anymore. Or maybe it’s one of those that should stay stuck in our heads until it pierces our hearts which is the whole point of God’s Word anyway.

Here’s a good one to think about.

Psalm 119:105 from the Message Bible says this:

“By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.”

I don’t think any of us like walking around in the dark and according to this verse we don’t have to.

For previous Monday school posts, go to my home page and click the Monday School tab.

 

Photo by nappy from Pexels

Wash It Away

I’ve been quieter about my Lenten journey this year. It’s not been on purpose. I didn’t plan it that way is what I mean. The last time I sat down to write, the internet was out. At first, I was irritated about the inconvenience of it. By the time we found out it would be a couple of days until a new piece of equipment arrived, I was over it and enjoyed no internet.

One of the purposes of my Lenten journey this year was to spend less time on social media, my phone and laptop. I realized halfway into the season that I had not done well with the “less time” part. Then we had no internet and I was forced into it. And it was good.

I was less distracted so I read more. And studied more. I had longer conversations with my family. I listened better. I thought through ideas fully. I felt more at ease and it seemed easier to move at soul-speed.

Then the internet was up again and it all went back to how it was before. The restlessness. The wasted time. The countless distractions.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Internet or not, we are bombarded with opportunities to look, like, scroll, watch, read, post the perfectly filtered photo, create the wittiest caption, comment, and check stats. For what? Why do I give in to the distractions when I know it’s not what I need?

I believe the question is one each of us needs to ask ourselves, wrestle with, and answer honestly. And it won’t do any good to put it out of our minds and ignore it. Why do we allow such unnecessary distractions? Are they doing any good for us? There may be some good in it and because of it. I read many inspirational posts throughout the week that remind me of truth and encourage me. But we all know our screens aren’t filled with all things encouraging. It’s too easy to compare or envy or become less and less content with our lives. And we really need to be concerned when we care more about our social media presence than with who we are in real life with the people God gave us. We need to ask how we can use social media for the good of others; how we use it wisely; how we can prevent it from stealing valuable time and real connection with real people.

These are questions I’m asking.

So I’m deleting a couple of apps from my phone today, because having instant access to all the distractions is part of the problem for me. This is a start and it will help, but I plan to keep asking the questions. I will keep wrestling because I don’t want to give in to a distracted life.

If you’re one who has found out how to do this well I wish you’d share with the rest of us. We can all learn from one another.

I’ll leave you with beautiful thoughts from Jan Richardson. She blogs at The Painted Prayerbook. This is from one of her 2012 Lenten posts.

“….we carry so much that can serve to insulate us from recognizing and being present to the God who is always present to us, and who still perceives our beloved shape beneath the layers of grime that cling to our souls. The distractions we build our lives around; the harm we cause others or ourselves; our inability to see ourselves as God sees us: how might we allow God to wash all this away, not so that God can see us more clearly, but so that we can see the God who makes a home within us?”

 

 

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

 

Hope Has Feet

Last week I wrote about making headway. Sometimes the headway is painful. Sometimes it’s slow and feels like no headway at all. I used my running journey as an example because lately my running is terrible. My body hurts. I can’t get my breathing right. And my pace is off. Since then I’ve had two fantastic runs!

I came close to talking myself right out of the first one. It was freezing outside when I woke up before the sun. I dreaded the run already and had more time to dread it while my windshield defrosted. I struggled to be positive on my drive to the park, but I ran my goal and it felt great. And I had another good run today. Maybe I have my running groove back.

I do know this: If I hope to be a runner, I have to run. Or sometimes barely jog. Or maybe I alternate walking and running. But I keep at it. I do the work of running. So what if I go through a season of painful off-paced running? I still do it.

It’s that way with anything we hope for.

If we hope to publish a book one day, we make the time to write. We hope to go to grad school, then we find out what it will take and do it. We want to travel, then we do the work of saving and planning. We hope for a good marriage, then we learn to love our spouses the way we want to be loved, and do the hard thing of loving when it’s not easy. We hope for deep friendships, then let’s be the kind of friends that make it possible. Anything we hope for must be worked for.

Hope doesn’t wait around for something to happen. Hope is not an idle wish for things to get better. Hope has feet. Hope compels us to move forward. Toward our goals and dreams, and the people in our lives. Hope moves us patiently and steadily in the direction of all the good things, all the God things our hearts desire.

Even a long season of waiting can be a hopeful and purposeful time of growth. But hope always looks and moves forward.

What is it you hope for? How are you moving toward it? Have you ever lost hope?

Thank you, Joanna Schley, for the sweet photo.