You Are a Letter

Monday School is the newest feature on my blog. For more about it go here.

This week’s Monday School comes from verses I first read and thought about years ago and ones I talked about at a women’s event. I’m thinking about them again. The verses are found in 2 Corinthians.

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
2 Corinthians 3:2-3 NIV

The Message puts it like this:  “Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it—not with ink, but with God’s living Spirit; not chiseled into stone, but carved into human lives….”

My life is a letter. Yours is too. Not the kind written with pen and ink on tablets, but written with the Spirit of God upon our hearts.

So what do our lives say?

Do our lives say we love God or that we’re busy for God? Are we checking off the “good Christian” boxes or are we allowing Him to change us from the inside?

Do we love others? Those that are different than we are? Those we don’t understand?

Do we value relationships over routine? Are we distracted or engaged with the people around us? Are we easily offended?

Does my life say I’m grateful for God’s grace or does it say I deserve it? Does my life make those around me want to know God? Want to trust Him and love Him?

Hard questions. And honestly, ones I can’t always answer the way I want to.

God means for our lives to be a love letter, and He knows we’ll have good days and bad days. When asking ourselves what our lives say we shouldn’t look at a snapshot view. We can’t answer by looking at a day or a moment in time.

Instead let’s look at the whole of our lives……the complete view. The busy seasons, the slower ones and the growing ones. The hard and painful seasons and the sweetest ones.

“……you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.”  Colossians 1:10b NLT

Are we growing? Are we more patient? Less selfish?

Are we sensitive enough to know when our lives aren’t saying what they should say?

Are we quick to admit our mistakes, apologize and ask forgiveness?

Do our failures make us more gracious toward others? Do we forgive easily?

Are we surrendering more and more to God’s way of doing things?

Yes, let’s ask what our lives say now. But let’s ask what our lives will say tomorrow, next year, in fifteen years, and beyond.

What will your life say?

 

 

 

 

 

But They Soon Forgot

This week’s Monday School is about a topic that’s been rolling around in my head for quite a while. You can click here to find out about Monday School.

Memory……remembering……reminiscing……..looking back…..

These are what I’ve been thinking about. So when I read in Deuteronomy yesterday morning it caused me to search further.

The first part of the book is an historical account of Israel’s 40 year wilderness period given by Moses to God’s people. The word “remember” shows up dozens of times in Deuteronomy.

But this is the verse that got me:

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.   Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV

Over and over again God, through Moses, tells the people to remember.

“Remember the day you stood before the Lord……” Deut 4:10
“Remember the Lord rescued you…..”  Deut 4:20
“So remember this and keep it firmly in your mind……” Deut 4:39
“Remember you were slaves in Egypt…..” Deut 5:15
“Remember well what the Lord your God did…..” Deut 7:18
“Remember how the Lord God led you……” Deut 8:2

Do not forget……..remember the things your eyes have seen and keep them in your heart.

I think the word “fade” in the NIV version is so appropriate here. We forget slowly and sometimes unintentionally. The wonders and miracles fade away or cease to amaze us.  Or we work hard to forget the past because it’s painful and full of regret. Or we pretend the past never happened and try to remove anything and anyone that reminds us of it.

But God wants His people to remember……even the hard things…….even when they were slaves in Egypt.

Because remembering well and remembering honestly builds our faith, grows our patience, gives us courage and hope, and enlarges our hearts so that we look on others with compassion.

Psalm 106 tells what happened when God’s people forgot.

7″Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love
but rebelled…..”

13″But they soon forget his works;
they did not wait for his counsel….”

21″They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt……

24″Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the Lord.”

They forgot and we forget. O God help us remember.

The last part of Deuteronomy 4:9 tells us to teach the things our eyes have seen to our children and our children’s children. When we do this……we’ll remember.

So we tell our stories. The good stories and the hard ones. The ones where God pulled us from the miry pit and the ones where He set our feet upon the rock. The stories where we turned away from Him to do our own thing…….and the ones where He welcomed us back into His loving arms. We tell the stories that are hard to hear and the ones that make us wonder. We not only tell them……we read the stories and listen to them too. That’s how we remember.

Remembering well reminds us that God is God and we are not. So when we read Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13 about “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” don’t think Paul is telling us to forget our past. More than any other of the New Testament writers, Paul frequently mentions his past in his letters. Paul knew that a good dose of memory of who we were before Jesus can be exactly what we need when we’re fighting the good fight or when we get too big for our britches. Paul means for us to be focused on God and His work….the work we are given to do……and not be distracted by what is behind us because while we are shaped by our past, we are not defined by it. God was there with us…..in our past…..in our pain……in our regrets and there’s nothing He can’t redeem, heal, and use for His purposes.

Memory is one of God’s beautiful gifts and one we are to steward like any other gift He gave us. How we look back over our lives matters.

Remember well. Remember honestly. Remember like it matters.

Photo by Cem Sagisman on Unsplash

 

Grace In Vain

Today is another Monday with a new verse rolling around in my head.

I was in 2 Corinthians 6 and although I continued to read the entire chapter, I couldn’t get the last part of verse one out of my head.

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  2 Corinthians 6:1

Apparently we can receive the grace of God in vain and Paul thought the church at Corinth was in danger of it somehow. But what does that mean?

To do something in vain means to do it with no effect………without any useful result…….for no purpose. Like when you work really hard to lose 10 pounds but the scale numbers stay the same. Or campaigning for your favorite candidate only for them to lose the election. The work of exercising and eating right or the hours stuffing envelopes at campaign headquarters feel like a waste. No use at all.

Paul says that God’s grace to him was not in vain in 1 Corinthians 15:10: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul explains that God’s grace to him was not in vain by reminding the church of his hard work. Paul doesn’t take credit for his work though. He points to God’s grace.

Grace was received. Work was done. Paul labored in love because of God’s grace, NOT for God’s grace. There’s a vast difference between because and for. One is relationship, the other religion. One is a matter of the heart, the other is a list of dos and don’ts. One makes us humble, the other makes us proud.

The more Paul worked…..the more good he did, the less he thought of himself and the more he glorified God. Because that’s what grace does.

One way to receive God’s grace in vain is to make it all about me. To live my life, my way. Build my kingdom instead of God’s. Work for my comfort and safety without considering the comfort and safety of others.

Grace in vain makes me forget who I was before grace.

Grace in vain secretly, or maybe not so secretly, thinks I deserve the grace because of my knowledge, my faith, my leadership or accomplishments.

Grace in vain takes pride in reaching my next level. Takes pride in checking off the “good Christian” to do list.

Grace in vain makes all the work for nothing. The work is still done but without the intended results. Hardened hearts instead of soft ones. Less compassion, more judgment. Less peace, more fear. More about me. Less about God.

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. Romans 11:6

But grace, the kind that is not received in vain, remembers that God is the Grace Giver and we are nothing but what He makes us. This kind of grace makes us humble but gives us confidence. We grow and flourish in this grace. This grace flows through our love for God and for others.

“to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.                    Ephesians 1:6

Unfortunately, I don’t live in God’s grace perfectly. Thankfully, His grace covers that too.

Are there any areas in your life you aren’t acting on the grace you’ve received?

 

 

Photo by Sven Gauditz on Unsplash

 

 

 

Open Spaces

I posted this over a year ago but I’m sharing it again because I need the reminder. It’s another Live Like It Matters Challenge and it’s a good one. I have to work hard at this one.

What we do with our time tells the world a lot about us.

How do you spend your time? What does your calendar or planner say about your life?

Last month I didn’t like what my planner said about me. It said I’m busy doing a lot of things. Good things, too. But when I’m not careful about how I plan, I end up doing a lot of additional things and ignoring essential ones.

I have to regularly ask myself: is my life busy or bountiful? Manageable or meaningful? Do I value relationships over routine?

We are afflicted with the idea that we aren’t accomplishing anything unless we are rushing here and there, checking off the items on our “to do” list. But a full calendar doesn’t equal an abundant life. I cannot feel the spaciousness of God’s love when I’ve crammed my calendar full.

When I crowd my calendar with a lot of additional unnecessary activities, I crowd out opportunities for good conversations. I push away the chance of a meaningful encounter. I cannot live on purpose when I’m running around trying to accomplish a lot of things. When I’m rushing from one place to the next I don’t see the people around me. I may see them with my eyes, but not with my heart.

I won’t take the time to smile and say hello to the elderly lady behind me. I won’t notice the young boy in the cereal aisle that’s lost his mother.  I’ll rush through a phone call from my sister.

Because I want to live like it matters and after years of doing it the wrong way, I know that I need time in my home with my family and I need solitude. So I must be wise when planning and making commitments. Since I work full-time most of my days are filled but I can be intentional about my evenings.

I’ve learned that I need plenty of blank spaces in my calendar….some unplanned blocks of time…………time to move at soul-speed. The kind of time when I’m still and my heart is open to any kind of heavenly thought that God might send my way.

The unplanned time can be the most meaningful time spent. The kind that allows for a lengthy unrushed phone call with a long distance friend. Or a cozy movie night at home with my husband because the kids are out of the house unexpectedly. Or a nap on a Sunday afternoon.

We all need open spaces in our calendars.

My Live Like It Matters Challenge to you is to leave some open spaces in your planner. Circle them if you have to but leave them blank. See what it does for you. See what it does for the people around you.

Unplanned time is time well spent.

Because how you spend your time matters. And how you plan or don’t plan matters.

Live like it matters.
Rush

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Look What You Made Me Do

Like millions of others, my daughters anticipated the new song by Taylor Swift and they weren’t disappointed. While most critics have bashed Look What You Made Me Do, millions of fans have helped Swift break streaming, download, and video view records and it’s predicted the song will hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart next month.

I like the song. Maybe it’s easy for me to like it because my girls literally grew up with Taylor Swift. Every single one of her songs has been played over and over and over in our house, on the computer, in the car, or on their phones. Wherever they could be played, TS songs were played. So in a way, I grew up as a mom with Taylor Swift. From Teardrops on My Guitar to Look What You Made Me Do is a lot of growing.

As I listen to Look What You Made Me Do, I’m reminded of a time as a young woman when I had the same attitude as the one played out in the song. After some heartbreaks I vowed I would never be hurt again. I didn’t trust others and kept everyone at arm’s length. I was strong and independent and ready to take on the world.

Like Taylor, “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time.” Only my heart became harder and harder because with every hurt a wall was built around my heart. Another hurt, another wall. Walls of sarcasm and suspicion. Walls of bitterness, pride and stony ambition.

But the thing about walls around our hearts is they don’t work. Not if we want love and joy and peace. Walls keep these away.

So what do I tell my young daughter when she’s betrayed by a friend? Or when someone calls her a name? What do I do when I’m lied to? Or ignored? Or uninvited?

I can tell my daughter to treat those who mistreated her the same way. I can tell her to ignore them and never talk to them again. I can snub those who ignore me and unfriend those who no longer welcome me.

But there is a better way. I’ll be kind to them. I’ll smile and speak when I see them. And I’ll forgive them. I’ll tell my daughters to do the same. Forgiveness may be a process and one I have to work hard at but it’s the only way to do it if I want to love and live well.

And I will tell my daughters to fight to keep their hearts soft. “Become wiser. Don’t give in to what you want to do at first. Don’t let this song or all the others like it become the anthem of your lives. Don’t give in to how the world says to treat those who hurt you. Instead, be kind and brave . And forgive them.”

 Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.     Proverbs 4:23 NIV

While lessons learned should make us wiser, they shouldn’t make us harder. Hearts are meant to be soft and without walls. That’s the only way we learn to love. That’s how we give it and get it. That’s how we learn to trust. That’s how we learn to forgive and become compassionate and kind.

Maybe smarter in the nick of time. But not harder.

Photo by Gabriele Diwald on Unsplash

Eclipse

My daughters and I went to Green Mountain for our eclipse viewing. It was exactly what we hoped for. Serene and beautiful. The eclipse began shortly after we arrived but I hiked the loop trail while the girls picked the perfect spot on the dock for us to watch the moon cover the sun. While on the trail I found several clear sunny spots, stopped to put my eclipse glasses on, and viewed the moon edging its way over the sun. I was awe struck and rushed my way through the forest to join the girls on the dock.

We reclined there, viewed the eclipse with our glasses, noticed the fading light, laughed at each other, guessed at the percentage of coverage, watched a newly arrived spectator look for a good spot to sit or point to the eclipse shaped shadows, put our glasses back on and did it again and again until the moon hid the sun as much as it would on Green Mountain.

The eclipse was amazing. The whole thing of it. The going there, the watching and waiting, the laughing with my girls, the riding home afterward. But there was another wonderful part of it.

Throughout our time at Green Mountain, my oldest daughter was very aware of others around us. The couple fishing on the other dock when we arrived. The old couple sitting on a swing near the entrance to the park. The young men glancing toward the sky occasionally. The photographer setting up his special camera for the perfect photo op. There were others around but these were the ones she noticed. None of these had glasses.

She spoke first to the couple sitting in the swing who didn’t realize the show had started.

“Is there something to see?” the elderly lady asked. “Oh yes,” my daughter said as she handed her glasses over.

The sweet elderly lady was delighted to see the crescent shape of the sun. The gentleman in the swing told us he’d seen two eclipses in his lifetime and thanked my daughter for the offer anyway. The fishing lady took a break from the fishing and my daughter saw her walking nearby. She gladly put the glasses on to see what was happening up above and thanked my daughter over and over. My daughter walked to the other dock to share her glasses with the fishing man, shared them with the photography man and eventually gave them away to the young glancers so they could enjoy the rest of the eclipse without worrying about their eyes.

My daughter wanted everyone to see the wonder in the sky.

She enjoyed the eclipse but was overjoyed to see others enjoying the eclipse.

The New Kid

The day I turned 12 years old, my family moved from our small town in Alabama to a big town in Tennessee. I lived in an unfamiliar house in a peculiar neighborhood and all my friends were too far away. A few weeks later I walked into my new school wearing a new dress because that was the rule. Girls wore dresses and boys wore collared, button-down shirts tucked in their pants. I never had these rules before and this made everything feel even stranger.

My classes went well though. I was late to Mrs. Bradshaw’s 7th grade English class because I had trouble finding the classroom. I listened intently to the teachers and was eager to learn, especially Tennessee History. Then there was lunch. I hadn’t thought about dreading it until I stood in line waiting for the glob of potatoes to fill the square on the top left corner of my tray. As I finished going through the line, I glanced around to see the entire lunchroom.

I stood there. Awkwardly. In a dress I hated. With a hideous hair cut. Holding a lunch I didn’t want to eat in a place I didn’t want to be.  IMG_5631

But like every new or uncomfortable situation I’ve been in since then, I made it through and here I am to tell the story.

We’ve all been there. Maybe not in the 7th grade with your hair cut too short wearing a plaid dress, but you’ve been the new kid or employee in training. The first-timer in an obstacle race, a freshman at college, the rookie gym member, or a newcomer to a writer’s conference…….feeling out of place, unsure and less than.

When we’re new to something we ask questions. That’s how we grow from not knowing to knowing. Is this seat taken? Which way to the math and science building? How can I strengthen my back muscles? Where do I get my timing chip? What do I say to the literary agent?

So we learn where to go and what to say and the next day or the next time it’s easier…..we’re not as unsure. We do that over and over and without even thinking about it we know what we’re doing and we’re confident in it. We’re winning the races, or killing our workouts at the gym, acing the college classes, or writing a book.

Changing circumstances, new experiences, and different environments are normal parts of our lives. Some of them we choose. Others we never would.

The best way to handle any of them: moment to moment, one foot in front of the other, with an open heart and a willingness to learn all we can. We’ll do it well sometimes. Other times we’ll fall flat on our faces. But it’s good either way if we’ve learned something, made a friend, solved a problem or faced a fear.

The more we do this, the better we get at it. We remember how we conquered the awkwardness and insecurity and it gives us courage to try other things. We welcome new opportunities. We’re not afraid to ask hard questions and we go against the flow when needed. We’re willing to be different and we don’t mind walking through difficult circumstances. Sometimes we even choose it because it’s the right thing to do.

But we do it with lots of grace and always thinking of others along the way because that’s the point. All of it means nothing……our learning, our serving, our working, our creating……..it means nothing if we’re not loving others.

I wish I could tell you who I sat with at lunch that day. Maybe I found out we had to sit with our homeroom class. Maybe someone called me over to sit with them. I do remember making lots of friends in 7th grade but I don’t remember anything from my Tennessee History class.

Let’s not forget how it feels to be the new kid and let’s make a newbie feel a little more comfortable when given the chance.

“Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”     Matthew 11:29-30 (MSG)

 

The Take Away

Last week was a a life changer for me. My heart was refreshed, my confidence renewed, and I was reminded of why I do what I do. I attended a conference called Speak Up, a speaking and writing conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I will glean from the abundance of all that was shared at the conference for a long time. There’s still a lot for me to sort through but I know the people I encountered and the knowledge I gained are what impacted me the most.

The People

The most significant take away:  new friends, colleagues, and mentors who want me to succeed and are willing to share their knowledge and help me grow. They not only shared their expertise, they shared the stories of their lives. The kinds of stories that caused hope to grow in our hearts. The conference director, keynote speakers, other writers, an editor with a large publishing house or author of several books. Speaker to thousands or one just starting out. It didn’t matter….all were generous with their knowledge, stories and encouragement.

I was able to participate in a critiquing session at the conference. Authors, publishers, editors or literary agents were given samples of our writing to read aloud. The group then offered encouragement, feedback, and critique of our work. This was the first time professionals evaluated my writing and I’m thankful for the opportunity to hear from them.

The Knowledge

Without even meaning to, I learned a whole new vocabulary last week. I know what a pub board is and what literary agents and acquisition editors do. I learned how important felt need is to a book proposal and the process of a book getting published from beginning to end. I didn’t take the speaking track but I learned so much from those who did during our conversations at lunch or mingling in hallways.

The breakouts were valuable sources of information and practical advice on a variety of topics. I now have a collection of resources I’ll use over and over again as I take my next steps.

But what now?

I Work.

If I do nothing with the knowledge and renewed confidence I’ve gained then my time at the conference is wasted. I’m better equipped to do the work of writing and sharing what I write and what it takes is work. Lots of it.

Having a simple system or plan in place will help me stay focused and disciplined with the work. At least it will make the work more manageable.

Where Are You

Where are you in pursuing the dreams of your heart? What are your gifts and talents? Your work or craft? God gave them to you and they’re meant to be used to offer the world something wonderfully unique.

Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good stewards of God’s various gifts of grace.   1 Peter 4:10

Whatever your craft, passion, or dream – people, knowledge, and work are important influences.

Gather with others who share your passion or those who want to learn your craft. Whether they’re experts or newbies, the ideas and know-how exchanged will be beneficial. Who better to give feedback than someone who knows or wants to know your craft?

Surround yourself with people who believe in and encourage you. It’s important to have others who will remind you of why you do what you do and dream what you dream.

There are lots of ways to get the knowledge you need. Take classes offered at your local college. Join a club or read a book. Ask a master if you can watch and learn. And remember……you can Google and find a You Tube video of almost anything. Make a habit of learning something new about your passion every day.

Now the work.

Practice doesn’t always make perfect but it makes us better. Make time for the doing of your craft. For some of us this means it happens after a full day’s work, dinner, and laundry. A calendared plan will help get you through your low energy levels. This is also when those encouraging friends and mentors will remind you why you do what you do and give you the boost you need to keep at it.

One of the keynote speakers, Bruce Martin, quoted a verse in his talk. My verse. The one I’d underlined and highlighted and starred years ago because it said what I felt so strongly!

But if I say, “I will not mention the Lord
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.     Jeremiah 20:9

This is why I do what I do. More than with the words I write…..but with my life…..and how I live it. Every part of it. The good parts and the messy ones. My life at home and work. My writing and speaking. Who I am with the people who love me and those who hurt me. Who I am with strangers and friends.

Let our craft, passions, and dreams…….let our entire lives tell of the One who gave them to us.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

 

Am Learning

I’m attending my first writer’s conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This means several things.

First, it means I know I’m a writer.

Second, it means I’m telling others I’m a writer.

Both of those are remarkable because only a few years ago I wouldn’t say it. I thought it and part of me knew it, but I kept it to myself except to those who knew me best.

Attending this writer’s conference means some other things. It means I’m eager to learn from others about what to do with my writing. It also means I’m willing to make an investment in learning my craft.

I’ll share more about it after I’ve had time to process everything I’ve gained from being here, but I can confidently say after two full days of the conference that it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made. It’s better than I anticipated and the knowledge, support, and encouragement I’ve received is priceless.

What’s your craft? What are you passionate about? What do you dream of doing?

I encourage you to take a step toward your passion. Make an investment to learn all you can. Connect with others who have the same dream.

And see what happens.

“You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”     Matthew 5:14-15

 

Photo by Ian Schneider