Thursday, January 16, 2014

Love Your Dreams/Goals - Hearts at Home January Blog Hop

(Today is the Third Thursday of the month. Time for the Hearts at Home Home Blog Hop! This month's topic: Love Your Dreams/Goals. Head over to Jill's blog to see what other women have to say on the topic.)

"All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them." - Walt Disney

We are told our entire lives that we can become anything we want to be if we only work hard enough. These days, children need to practically sign away their lives in order to participate in a sport of any kind. As parents, we are told we are failing if we aren't allowing our kids to try out every activity in order to discover the one thing that will lead to fulfilling their dreams.

Like most, I've identified the dreams of my heart... those things that sometimes feel so out-of-touch I may never actually achieve them. Yet at the same time, I can taste them the way you taste chocolate before it even touches your lips simply because the desire is so strong. And while goals aren't big in my life, I do have them. I've completed a marathon, a handful of half marathons and many smaller races. These accomplishments don't just happen by accident. If the goal isn't set, the likelihood of crossing a  finish line is slim-to-none.

Maybe I'm not much of a dreamer. Makes me sound kind of un-American, I know. It's just that I get tired of chasing after rainbows instead of embracing the gifts that may appear, to others, not quite as shiny as that pot of gold (and, yes, to myself as well, at times).

It could be that my dreams are just often painted as insignificant.
Since I was a little girl, I always dreamed of growing up, getting married, having kids and...

Well... my dream didn't really blossom into anything more than that. I just quit thinking it was a dream. I mean "homemaker" doesn't sound all that glamorous. We like to spice it up with all kind of creative descriptions when filling out applications. As a matter of fact, the conversations I hear out there frown upon being a stay-at-home mom. Are little girls even allowed to dream about being mommies anymore? ...I mean, without a career?

My dream was to marry a man that loves God and loves me and my children. I have that in a way that other women, unfortunately, only wish for. My dream was to have children and raise them to love God in a community of believers that feels like family. We have that in a way I never could have imagined. If we can finish this life loving God and loving others well, I will have reached my dreams and achieved my goals. No apologies.

Sure, writing and speaking are still a pursuit of mine. God continues to provide those opportunities to me in the perfect situations. I may never be a famous Speaker or Writer but God has still given me a life beyond my wildest dreams. I think it's time I start embracing the gifts He's given me today and realize I can never dream up a life better than the plans He has for me. I find I'm much happier trusting the Maker of the Stars than I am to just reach for them.
There's nothing weak about choosing to be a stay-at-home mom. It's what I do and I'm proud of it. Not to mention I am better for it.
"This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength." - 1 Corinthians 1:25

*Dream Fulfilled*

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It's MY story (and I want to hear yours)

Telling my story has never been easy. And it’s not because I have some crazy secrets I’m trying to hide. More so, it’s always been a struggle of feeling like my story isn’t anything special. I wouldn’t want to waste anyone’s time.  

It never fails when people gather to tell their stories. Someone always recalls the remarkable transformation God has done in their life. There’s the crazy “look-at-how-my-life-was-going-straight-to-the-pit-of-hell” before account followed by the lightning bolt moment that God used to set them on “the straight and narrow”. I’m left in awe. After all, God is amazing and the transformation He works is remarkable. The problem was that I was left pining because I didn’t view my story as anything special.

So, flashback with me to a moment where we gathered in a circle to share our stories...

I recounted how I had always known and believed the Good News of the Bible. At least I couldn’t remember any real “come to Jesus” moments in my life. Oh, I had tried to create them… and there are distinct memories of events that propelled me closer to God… it’s just that I didn’t delve into the life of gangs or prostitution or even partying for that matter. (Can I just say that I now know I’m crazy to have longed for an account like that in my story?!)

Don’t get me wrong: It is evident that God has changed me. My life is different because of Him. It’s just that it is less about how my life was transformed from what it used to be and more of an account of how my life is different than what it could be. He didn’t save me from a past of wretchedness (at least not to the world’s standards… I have my sins… we all do). He simply saved me from myself and the damage I could have done because He grabbed a hold of my heart at a young age.

This song by Sue C. Smith entitled “I Came to Love You Early” basically tells my story.

I felt sometimes I didn’t have a story I could share.
I wasn’t rescued from a past destroyed by dark despair.
O, but Jesus, I have memories of the times that we’ve been through
And I wouldn’t trade one moment of growing up with You.

I came to love you early,
I came to know you young,
You touched my heart, dear Jesus,
When my life had just begun.

I gave you my tomorrows
And a childish heart of sin
And You’ve saved me from a lifetime
Of what I might have been.

When I finished sharing my story, I was left in a bit of shell shock. One of the men listening (who happened to be leading the church we were attending at the time) informed me that he didn’t believe me. Apparently, the only person he ever heard that type of account from that he actually believed was Ruth Bell Graham. And he only believed that story because… well, she was Ruth Bell Graham.

Here I was, deciding to give up the desire to make my story into something more exciting than it is. No need to embellish. Tell it just the way it is… and I did… and I was told it wasn’t good enough… by a pastor. (Yep… that took some time to work through.)

I still shake my head over it. But I’ve learned from it. There will never be a time that I listen to the story of another and tell them they need to change it. Never. Ever. It’s there story and it’s important for them to share it. So is mine… just the way God wrote it.

Every story is different. No two stories are exactly alike. And they all need to be shared.

We’ve been going through a series at our church on this very topic. There’s a great site called I am Second that you can watch more accounts of what God is doing in the lives of others. Listening to testimonies, even of people I don’t know, is spurring me on to become more like Jesus.

Needless to say, I was in awe again when I heard the topic of this year’s (in)RL conference was “Stories”. I’ve learned when God continues to drive home a point, I need to listen. (By the way, that’s my one word for the year: Listen.) So, I am. I’m reading through old journals… looking for common themes in my story… remembering all the ways God has transformed my life… because He has. There's more to my story then one little blog post. There's always more. 

I have embraced the story God has written for me. You have a story to tell, too. If you feel like you don’t, you’re not alone… you just need to talk it out to identify what your story is. Once you begin to share your story by talking to God and talking to others, you enter a world of excitement to see not only how God will continue His story of your life, but how it will be entwined with others. It’s always better with others. And your story is important. Don’t let anyone tell you different. God cared enough to write it. Therefore, it needs to be told.

I am so over-the-top excited of what God is going to do this year through (in)RL! You are ALL invited to join me. And the best part is that it is completely FREE!!!! It’s easy to register. It's a place to experience community the way God intended it to be. Community is our stories together. It's a beautiful tapestry God has created. Join me and my friends as we listen and tell stories of God’s amazing work in our lives.

Oh, and can I add one more thing?
There won't be any judging.
Come as you are.
That's the best way to share your story.
We need the real you.
I can’t wait to hear your story and I’d love to see it entangled with mine.
Now go register! We're meeting April 26th from 9am-1pm here. Can't wait!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Remind me: I don't want to miss out on Transformation

The start of the new year has left me sitting in a world of regret. As I ponder the year behind us, I can't help but wonder how exactly I entered the land of failure. Just where did I got wrong? When exactly did I quit believing I could succeed or, more honestly, just quit caring if I even tried?

Analyzing your habits every January is the trend. For me, it didn't matter that I completed 2 half marathons in 2013. The fact remains that I far from embraced a healthy lifestyle. 20 added pounds are a sad reminder of just how much I let myself go.  Bottom line: I quit being intentional. I didn't want to make the choices that would lead to a healthy lifestyle. What I wanted to do in the moment, I did and now I'm paying the price. There's always a cost to our decisions.

I have a friend that leads a boot camp offered through our church this time every year. While there was a tug-of-war going on with my desires, ultimately I signed up for the group. Likely, I joined because I have been a part since its conception. The desire for exercise isn't there. Sure, I desire to be thin. I just don't want to do the work required to achieve the prize. Still, I'm going to the boot camp offered through my church. Does it really matter that the driving force behind my decision was that I don't want to be left out. I hate feeling like I'm missing out on something my friends are doing.

This morning was the first boot camp of the year. Notwithstanding the griping and moaning, I unburied my exercise mat, filled up the water bottle and got myself there. I listened half-heartedly and participate with less enthusiasm because I've been here before. Getting healthy is hard and requires intentionality. I'm too tired, unmotivated and weighed down with empty calorie treats as well as the burdens of the world. But I'm a part of the group anyway. I don't want to miss out.

Negative thoughts that came from searching for clothes that would actually fit this morning are replaced with glimpses of hope mid-exercise as I touch my calf muscle. Surprisingly, there is actually still shape from all the running I took a break from two months ago. Maybe not all is lost? A flicker of hope is lit as my mind recalls the healthy choices I have made even if I didn't give 100%.

"Just give me 8 weeks of healthy eating together." My friend/instructor wants to entice us and I find myself lured like a fish toward bait. He is smart; giving us just a taste today. The exercises he leads us through are achievable and don't feel out-of-reach. Maybe being healthy isn't impossible. While I know the worse is yet to come, I'm believing it is all for my good. I feel more energy at the conclusion of the workout than I've felt in months. 8 weeks, huh?

Not wanting to miss out may not be such a bad motivation. I don't know how many people were there today but it was good to know I was surrounded by others who believe change is good. Different ages, sizes, and fitness levels filled the room. Excuses lose their effectiveness in the middle community. Not everyone's story is like mine but we all have excuses taunting us to stay comfortable. Community reminds me that God desires transformation. In the moment, I may not be so convinced I want others to inspire me to change. Deep in my heart, however, I know those are the best relationships to surround myself with.

My mind flashes to Bible verses I learned as a child. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up."  I'm grateful for the crowd of witnesses to keep my eyes on the prize. Hebrews 12 also goes on about the necessity and value of discipline even if I kick and scream like a little child against it.

God created community for a reason. Our church advertises life change. Even when I don't want to change, God calls me to more. Transformation is God's desire for us. It should be our desire for each other.

"For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image."  (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

It's not just in the area of physical fitness that I'm encouraged to change. It's spiritual, emotional and relational health as well. I am still not certain I want to commit to the discipline a healthy lifestyle requires. However, I am convinced that God placed me in this community because He knows I might need encouragement to gather that desire. I want this community... even when it is hard... especially when I want to quit.
Thank you, Southfield, for accepting me where I am and yet spurring me on to become more like Christ. It's what this life is all about. With God keeping my heart moldable and your encouragement to continue saying "yes" to Him, I am better. I want to be better. Please keep pushing me even when I push back. I need you. I'm better because of you and grateful for you. Remind me to count the cost when faced with a fork in the road and I promise to do the same for you. It may not be easy but it is worth it in the end. Don't let me make excuses. I don't want to miss out.

"A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 'If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’ Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own. Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Luke 14: 25-35)