Category Archives: life challenges

Doing Life Together…Helping Others

Philippians 2“Keep a close watch on all you do and think. Stay true to what is right and God will bless you and use you to help others.” 1 Timothy 4:16

These words from Paul to Timothy ring true for each of us. Keep a close watch on all you do and think, and then stay true to what is right. If we do this God will bless us and use us to help others…wow.

I shared earlier how important it is to keep our thoughts focused on what is good. We can’t let our sinful nature take up residence in our thoughts and never leave. Our thoughts often hold us hostage to the point that we are paralyzed, rendered useless not only to ourselves but to others. We are so caught up in our own issues and troubles that we stop looking around us.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

I suffer from night terrors. (Now that’s an awesome way to start a blog.) It’s not something that I like to share as they make me feel like a helpless child unable to overcome my silly fears. They started the summer before I began my freshman year of high school. It was during the summer and my father was traveling quite a bit. The anticipation of which would throw me totally out of whack. My dad made me feel safe, secure and basically untouchable. When he wasn’t there, I was a wreck.

This particular summer my night terrors began. I couldn’t sleep alone, I would sneak down the hall to my parents room and sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed. When my dad was away I would sleep with my mom. The thought of being alone in my room would cause me such anxiety that I would physically shake in fear. This went on all summer and finally my parents had to draw a line. I was terrified, I cried, shook, had a hard time breathing but they were standing firm. This couldn’t go on. I sat on my bed wrapped in several blankets with the light on…I grabbed a book to take my mind off and started to read. Yup…I took my mind off  of my fears and anxieties, and started to read. I read till I fell asleep.

Fast forward A LOT of years to present day. Now as a grown up with my oldest starting high school, guess what happened…yup night terrors. I will wake up in a sweat shaking in fear about anything and everything. Did you ever realize how much worse things seem in the dark, when you’re tired and uncertain. It has been awful! I felt like I was tired all the time, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t function. I was trying to fall asleep with the TV on hoping that the light and distraction would help. Sometimes it did, often it did not.

About a month ago, while I was lying awake in my bed, trying to pray myself out of this ridiculous fear, I remembered something one of the youth had said about something going on in their life that was causing them anxiety. So, I began to pray for them, that they would feel God’s peace and love. That led me to the struggles of another one of my youth, then a friend I had prayed for at church and a woman in my small group. The more I prayed for OTHERS the more Christ’s peace rested in me.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

I truly wish I could express the experience! Focusing on someone else brought me peace and freedom like nothing I had experienced before. I was allowing my anxieties, and the fears in my head to holding me hostage. The moment I turned away from MY fears and toward the Holy Spirit’s leading I was rescued from my anxiety. Now whenever I find my thoughts creeping to places that they shouldn’t, or old fears creeping in, I focus on others, specifically I pray. I listen to who the Spirit brings to my heart and I lift them up. The fears fade and Christ’s peace fills my heart.

It may not be this way for everyone. Each of us have a call on our lives. I know many people who have been called to minister to the poor, sit by a bedside in a hospital, work with individuals struggling with addiction, or evangelizing on the streets. In each of these I recognize a similar peace that comes from an altered focus. A shift of perspective from oneself to others.

Doing life together means that we are constantly and consistently holding each other up. We are seeking out opportunities to put others before ourselves, to come along side and link arms and move forward together. We weren’t created to exist on a desert island, we were created to be in community, working together to share the good news and to glorify God.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

 

 

Doing Life Together…Be Nice!

980x

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32

I was having a conversation this week with a friend and I said something. Something I immediately regret, regret to the point that it actually left a foul taste in my mouth. I couldn’t think of why I said it or where it came from, but there it was…ugliness in all its glory. After asking forgiveness for my words, I spent time thinking and praying about my heart and where that was rooted. I asked God to help me be more mindful of my heart and my words. Since then, I have been more aware of what I say and how I say it. Words have so much power.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.Proverbs 18:21

How many times a day do you find yourself in a situation where it almost seems natural to say something ugly? Whether it’s about a person, place or thing… James really stated it best when he said our tongue is a fire. “In the same way, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it boasts of great things. Consider how small a spark sets a great forest ablaze. The tongue also is a fire, a world of wickedness among the parts of the body. It pollutes the whole person, sets the course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:5-6

It has become so commonplace to speak ill of anything, that we don’t even realize we do it anymore. “That person really annoys me”, “I hate the food there it’s terrible”, “their customer service sucks”, seems harmless enough right? Who are we saying it too? Are we making a statement of our dissatisfaction or a direct judgement? In our culture where we hold so much pride in our freedom of speech, have we gone too far toward mainstreaming hatefulness?

Doing life together means we are all in the same boat. We are all supposed to be rowing together in the same direction with the same goal; celebrating God’s Kingdom here on this world and share His love, forgiveness and freedom with as many people as possible. If that’s true then how important is complaining about customer service or restaurant food you dislike?

This scripture from Ephesians states clearly that we are only to speak words which serve to build up the body and give grace to those who hear. We are to put away ALL bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. We are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving as Christ is forgiving.

We have become so consumed with, ‘shooting straight’, ‘being candid’, ‘speaking our mind’, and ‘not holding anything back’, that we have forgotten how to express love, forgiveness, grace and kindness. Did you ever hear Jesus speak an angry word to anyone, call them a name or rebuke them in front of others, No! He came to build up not to tear down.

People are going to be frustrating, we’re not perfect…none of us! We all have good days and bad days and have survived all kinds of experiences. God loves us each equally, with our flaws, where we are. We need to do the same. If we are going to be The Church, we need to behave like it. We need to strive to not speak a word unless it serves to build up the body, edifies people, speaks kindness and shines a light on Jesus, not us.

We are the body, we are Christ’s Church. We are His example to the world, when we are tearing each other down, gossiping, bragging, belittling and being unkind, what kind of example are we setting?

Finding Jesus in everyone, and everything isn’t easy, and there are people out there that are harder to love than others. It doesn’t make them less deserving, less needful or less desirous of our love and kindness. Doing life together means that everyone deserves our best…everyone.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Be careful what you ask for…

downloadAnd I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13-14.

I loved growing up in the 80’s. We had great music, awesome clothes, less than awesome hairstyles and the best movies ever! I know, I know,  what does this have to do with being careful what you ask for, well there is a saying that is quoted throughout one of my favorite moves, The Princess Bride these words are spoken by a poor young peasant to his beautiful young mistress. At a point early on in the movie she miraculously realizes that every time he responds to her requests with these words, “that what he is really saying, is I love you”, deep sigh. How romantic right? Yes teenage girls across the nation swooned and dreamed of their Wesley finding & rescuing them and falling madly in love.

The words spoken in this movie express more than just the romantic love we associate with these characters. These words express a willingness to sacrifice everything for each other. Walking away from what is secure, known and safe. Wesley will sacrifice his very life for the opportunity to be together…sound familiar? The love that Christ feels for us is such that He gave up everything…EVERYTHING, so that we would not be separated from Him. He left heaven, came to earth as a man, lowly and simple, sacrificed Himself in the most unimaginable way, so we could experience real relationship with the Father.

And if that weren’t enough, he promises to give us whatever we ask for in His name. He wants to give us exponentially more than we could ever comprehend. Jesus’ love is such that He sacrificed Himself to reunite us with the Father, but also such that He WANTS to give us every good thing, not everything we want, but every good thing.

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. James 1:17

His love is such that he won’t give us any less that what is the very best for us. We ask for what we want and His response is, “as you wish”. However,  just like when our children ask for a second helping of ice cream or an extra hour after curfew, we aren’t going to give them what we know is NOT in their best interest…no matter how much they beg and plead for it.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

Recently my prayers have been along the lines of, “God give me patience!”, or “Jesus make me more like you”, or my best one yet, “Lord give me your heart toward others”. These prayers, He loves, these prayers, He answers…sometimes in ways that aren’t comfortable or easy. You know what His answers have been, here are the children I gave you, now let’s stir them up into a frenzy…practice that patience. You want to see people, to love them as I do, go to where you are uncomfortable going, see how they live, see their struggles, now go and love them, right where they are.

He is answering my prayers by refining me, allowing me to enter into situations that will test my patience, bringing me into relationship with people who may stretch my comfort zone. Showing me how He sees the world and not allowing me to judge with my own eyes but to love with His. My heart has been broken, my eyes have seen what I cannot un-see, my patience has been tested to the point of breaking…I have grown.

I used to be afraid of these kinds of prayers, I would make them halfheartedly then wince at what I expected to be the ensuing pain of it all…it didn’t come. Oh don’t get me wrong, when you ask God to refine you, He will and it’s not always comfortable, but He isn’t out to hurt you or break you or beat you down. He wants you to grow strong and mature into the person He created you to be. He will never allow you to be pushed beyond a point you can bear.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

Scripture also tells us how God will work alongside us to help us on our journey toward becoming more like him.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30

Never be afraid to ask God for anything. His answers will shock and amaze you, no prayer will go unanswered, sometimes the answer may be no, or not now or, OK hang on to your hat and see what I will do. No matter what you ask, expect an answer…always.

Doing life together

Eph4“If one of us bleeds, we all bleed.” I was reminded recently by an amazing woman whom I love as part of my family, what it means to be part of the Church. In Acts 2 we get a very good look of what it was like to be part of Christ’s Church where the believers, “had all things in common.”

While I was in college, I stumbled (and I do mean stumbled) onto a group of people who introduced me to Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. This family of like minded college students taught me, really for the first time, what it meant to live in Christian fellowship. We didn’t lock our doors, we ate each other’s food , we showed up uninvited and loved just being together. When one of us was in trouble, we were all there and stayed there till the problem was resolved. There was no need to small, or Goliath too big for this group to come together and pray out of existence.

This experience shaped my view of what Church is supposed to look like, what it means to be a family of believers, and to do life together. When I first moved to Tucson, I was additionally fortunate to find a church family, a church that became my second family. When my daughter got sick and was in the hospital (which was often) they were there in force, within hours. They’d bring food, they’d take turns each day giving me time to get home, shower and change clothes. They called, texted, emailed and annoyed the snot out of me…but I never felt alone, even when I was by myself.

I remember one particularly long hospital stay, I was about at a breaking point when I called my pastor and asked desperately if they could just, “pray Alex out of that hospital”. You know what happened…yup, within a few hours the elders of my church were there, Pastor Matt leading the way. I had gone downstairs for some coffee and when I came back up, her room was full of people, my people, holding hands around her bed praying.

When I saw them all there I was dumbfounded, and I actually asked, “what are you doing here”, Matt looked at me and quoted James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.” Alex went home the next day.

Scripture is very clear on how we should live life together, it’s more than clear, it’s specific; we however, complicate it. We want to fit our church lives into our ‘real’ lives. We chose our small groups and fellowship times around our social schedules. We serve when it’s convenient, we pray when we have time and we give according to our available budgets. What happened to going where we’re called, and praying without ceasing, and giving to God the first and best?

This week a friend of mine had an emergency. I received the call that she was on her way to the hospital…and then crickets. I was trying to figure out what to do when my dear friend reminded me that, when one of us bleeds we all bleed. I began to make arrangements for someone to pick up my daughter so I could go to the hospital, who was coming with me, who was calling everyone else to get them praying. One of us had a need, so we all needed to take action. For some it will be to pray, for others to make food, and others to help arrange schedules and provide respite. The fact is we each have a role to play in this thing we call life, and each role is equally important to the body.

This Sunday, pastor was preaching on Ephesians 4 and the gifts that God has given to each of His believers. Gifts that were given so that the body of Christ would be built up. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:16

Each of us has a role to play in the lives of one another. A role that God created specifically for us to play. Not everyone is equipped to sit by a bedside, believe me I know, but everyone is equipped for something. Not being certain of your spiritual gift does not give you a pass; everyone can pray, anyone can prepare a meal or hold a hand. We are on this road together, and road trips are always better with family, because when trouble comes…and it will, I’d rather have my family around than be out there alone.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Perspective…You are NOT your job

In-Christ-I-Am-640x226Your identity is in Christ.

That statement in and of its self is HUGE; however, we still fight the concept. Our work has become our identity. Our happiness is based on our work status and whether or not our job fulfills us. We want to find a partner who is as ‘dedicated to their work’ as we are. We talk about finding ‘work life balance’ not ‘life work balance’.

In a world where we are inundated day in and out on TV, social media, news, virtually every media outlet you can think of with finding and elevating our career satisfaction, it’s no wonder that so few do. After all, if hundreds of people can make millions of dollars teaching others how to be happy in their jobs, there must be a lot of unhappy employees out there. Work, job, career, vocation have taken the place of the only thing that can truly fulfill our lives…Christ.

No I am not saying that you shouldn’t work or that you shouldn’t want to be happy with the work you do. I’m saying that we should not be spending disproportionate amounts of time worrying, being anxious and crying over our jobs.

Recently I’ve had several individuals come to me with challenges that are rooted in their job satisfaction. They don’t feel appreciated, valued or perhaps challenged. They don’t feel they get paid enough or that the stress their job creates is wearing on them. I too have had some doubts recently about where my ‘career’ fits into my life. Then I read something that began to alter my perception of my job.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

It doesn’t say work heartily for the things you like to do, or are fun to do, it says ‘whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men.’ It doesn’t matter if I’m at home folding socks (which I HATE doing) or weeding my garden (which I LOVE doing) I am called to work heartily as if I’m doing it for God Himself. If we begin, just begin to start seeing our jobs as something we do for the Lord, not something we do that takes the place of the Lord, our feelings might change.

God does not want you to hate your job. Yes, that is another truth. God has given you the work you have to do, regardless of what it is, He can bring amazing things forth from it.

“I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor – it is the gift of God”  Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

The Lord blesses us with employment so that we have meaningful work, to provide for our families (2 Thess 3:10-13), to provide for those in need (Eph 4:28), and to live as part of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-16) He does not provide us this work so that we become the work, or so that work becomes our life.

All the labor of man is for this mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied. Ecclesiastes 6:7

I have spent the better part of my adult life striving to be the best at whatever I do. Early on I discovered that I could receive all kinds of positive reinforcement, awards, accolades and advancement if I worked harder, smarter and longer than anyone else. I achieved great success in the world…at what cost? I had a fancy office on the Potomac, traveling 3-weeks a month away from my family. I would introduce myself to people I met using my title as if it were my last name. I could never just be Betsy Stuetze; no, my true identity was found in what I did, my job title, not who I was. For the record; I was lonely, sad, scared, and desperately empty, and none of this could be cured by my job, my office, or my expense account.

Over the past year, some of which I’ve been serving as a bi-vocational pastor, I have learned that when you keep your (secular) work in its proper place, it can be incredibly satisfying. Our work can be a blessing to our families, others and ourselves. Our work can glorify God. Our work can have far reaching impact on those around us, however, it is not supposed to define you.

Lauren Daigel has a song out that I have gotten in the habit of playing over and over. You Say, has been a call to me when I feel like my priorities are beginning to get out of balance.

“Let every detail in your lives – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” Colossians 3:17

WWTD (What Would Tootie Do?)

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied, “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 22:36-40

I shared this scripture as part of a youth lesson recently and made the statement, if we follow these two commandments, having everything we do come from a place of loving God first and others second, we would never sin. My youth took this as a challenge, and now every time I see them they are coming up with scenarios they think would prove this premise wrong? Needless to say, it hasn’t worked yet, but I love that I have them thinking… thinking about how to be motivated to love, instead of being motivated to not sin.

If we were to focus all our efforts on loving and let all our actions stem from that, imagine what kind of world we could create. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”              1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I love it when God makes His will very simple. If we love Him first and everyone else as we love ourselves (yes we are supposed to love ourselves as God’s beloved children), then we will be aligned with His will.

I was reminded by a conversation I’ve been having with my youngest child. I keep a list of Tootie-isms. I love how children are able to see through all the complications of life to the simple answer. My list of Tootie-isms has become some what reminiscent of the book written by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

  1. Be nice
  2. Play fair
  3. Share
  4. Include everyone
  5. Don’t hit
  6. Say your sorry, even when it’s an accident
  7.  Listen to mom and dad…you’ll stay out of trouble
  8.  Put things away when you’re done with them
  9.  Family comes first
  10.  When you get angry, remember #1 always be nice

Reading through this list reminds me how simple being a Christian really is. If we can find a way to look at things through a child’s eyes our decisions would be very different. I would never hear my 6-year old daughter saying, “that girl looks different, let’s not include her”, or, “this situation is more complicated than that”, “that’s not my job”, “I don’t feel like being nice today”. As adults we have so many, ‘yes but’s’. None of what God tells us comes with a but. Love God first, and second, love everyone else like yourself. God does not follow those commands with, but only when it’s convenient or on Tuesday’s or when you feel like it. Nope He just says do it!

In my work I am often confronted with people and situations that make me uncomfortable and push the boundaries of my patience and my sense of fairness. It is in those situations I frequently ask myself WWTD (What Would Tootie Do). I find that when I stop for just a moment and ask that one simple question, I make more loving decisions.

Charles Sheldon wrote a book in 1896 titled In His Steps. I first read it in 1996, I had come across it in a used book store (I love old book stores) while I was attending college in Flagstaff, and it had a profound impact on me. The premise of the book, in all our lives and interactions, what would change if we asked ourselves one simple question before making any decision, what would Jesus do (WWJD). The impact it made on the characters in the book was profound and aligned with what scripture teaches us; that when we are obedient to God’s calling on our lives, He blesses our socks off, often in way’s we’d never expect. More than that however, an entire community was transformed by a hand full of people what made a daily conscious effort to love God first then, everyone else as themselves, and let that color every decision in their life.

I know it’s difficult for us to view life in such a simplistic way. I know we have all kinds of challenges and situations and exceptions we could throw out. Our God is not a God of exceptions, He is a God of absolutes. He doesn’t tell us to love when it’s convenient but to love all the time, especially when it’s inconvenient.

What would happen in our families, our jobs, our churches and our communities if we just took a deep breath and committed ourselves to making Jesus part of every decision. What do we possibly have to loose…better question, what do we possibly have to gain?

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

Consider it pure joy when losses are wins!

downloadIt’s one of those verses… we quote it, pastor quotes it, everyone quotes it. They quote it at you, to you, near you. Do we really know what it means?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

Talk about what seems like the ultimate contradiction, “consider it joy…whenever you face trials”? Yea, cause when I’m facing trials, I’m going to be joyful…that’s gonna happen!

I was driving to the office a couple of months ago, like I do every day and I got a phone call. It was a good morning, kids got out the door on time, hitting green lights, coffee in hand, KLOVE on the radio, I was feeling it. Today, only good things were going to happen to me.

“Good morning, this is Betsy”, I answered the phone. On the line was a woman I had been working with on a very large project. To clarify, winning this grant would be the equivalent of my entire fiscal year’s revenue budget. We had been working together on this for months. Today was the day we would hear who won the grant. Only good things were going to happen today, I could feel it.

As I heard her voice, I could tell it was not the news I was hoping for. The disappointment was palpable in the sound of her words. I think she felt worse having to give me the bad news, than she did receiving it herself. I was stunned for a full 30-seconds, perhaps more because she pulled me out of the silence, “Betsy are you still there, did you hear what I said?” “Yes, sorry I heard you. I am so sorry, it was a great proposal and we can try again for the next cycle (in three years)” She agreed, and we talked about how much we enjoyed working together, we wished each other the best of luck and hung up.

So much for only good things happening huh? The projected represented an enormous amount of time and resources invested. As I pulled up to my first red light of the morning, this verse popped into my head. Thank you, Holy Spirit! In that moment, I had an opportunity to decide. I could mourn the loss, spend time (in my case hours if not days) spinning in my head about where I went wrong, what more I could have done, what more other people could have done. I could have looked for who to blame and been angry. Or I could take a moment to consider God’s greater plan for my life.

God was NOT trying to ruin my day. There was a reason we were not selected. It would have been a HUGE investment in time and resources, embarking down a road we’ve never been before. Could we have effectively executed the plan, living up to the expectations laid out in the proposal. Did I really have the time, along with my other responsibilities to lead the project? In that moment, I took a deep breath and felt an unexpected calm. In that moment, the second part of the scripture came to mind, “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4

I can think of a dozen reasons that I didn’t get the grant, but that doesn’t really matter. My getting the grant was not in God’s plan. I know that working outside of God’s plan for my life is disastrous. No, seriously been there done that, not going back! I was joyful in that moment that God is in control, that He has so much more for me than this one grant that served to exalt me in my career but not Him in His Glory.

The joy in this scripture that James talks about is Joy in the Lord. Not joy in our circumstances. God shows us His hands-on involvement in our lives through our circumstances, that is where our joy comes from, not in the circumstances themselves.

The storms of life will come, full force and try to knock us down. It is in those storms that God shows us His glory, His intimate involvement in our lives and His love for us, for our future and wellbeing. That is our joy! God knows and loves us, He wants what is best for us and use any and all means, (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28) to achieve His purpose for our lives.

Next time, you feel knocked down by the circumstances, take joy in the knowledge that God is actively working through them to make you more like Him.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

 

Untitled blog

I feel the need to take a break from my normal rants to share a burden I feel. Recently I read about a young pastor in California who committed suicide. He was in his 30’s I believe, a husband and father; a beautiful family photo accompanied the article. I was dumbfounded. How is this possible? How can a man, that man in the photo, a man who dedicated his life to serving God, chose to end his life?

I am well acquainted with the hardships and trials of this world; having lost both a husband in a tragic car accident and a daughter after a long and painful battle with cancer. You can’t go through life without experiencing some form of pain and loss; however I don’t believe it’s the pain and loss that is causing so many people in our world to choose to end their suffering…it’s the loneliness.

I get to work with a group of wonderful youth, and they have had more than their fair share of struggles. I watch in amazement as they pull themselves up and continue to move forward each day, it’s truly incredible the resilience they have. However, as they get older what I see is an increased sense of isolation. The more ‘connected’ they are, the less connected they feel. They have 438 friends on Facebook, 397 followers on Twitter and Instagram, but no one to pick up the phone and talk to when they need a listening ear. They post, text, snapchcat and tweet and dozens if not hundreds of people will give a thumbs up or a smiley face, but none are a familiar voice, hug, smile or shoulder.

As we continue to age and move into the ‘real world’ the isolation increases in corresponding measure to the pressures of life; succeed, make an impact, increase profits, and look like we walked off the cover of a fashion magazine. We need to have the right college degree, the right job, make enough money to drive the right car, live in the right neighborhood, etc., etc., etc. Now this is not a middle class issue, at all socioeconomic levels of our country there’s an isolation factor. We don’t want our neighbors to know we can’t afford groceries or that our child struggles with an eating disorder. We don’t want the school to put us on the list for donated clothes or to know that we don’t have a cell phone.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1Thessalonians 5:11

This concept that no matter who we are, or what we do, we’ll never be enough is driving our nation crazy, quite literally. I read recently that children of this generation (Millennial) experience the same level of mental stress as adults did in the 1950’s who were being institutionalized! WHAT!!!

The pressure we put ourselves and our children under is much higher than it’s ever been before. However, I still believe that it’s the isolation that causes us to break. Humans are social beings we crave interaction, intimacy and human contact. We seem to be missing these in our culture right now; in a world where we can instantaneously contact someone, send a message get an immediate response back; communication has become transactional not relational.

This vibrant young man reminded me of recent conversations I’ve had with several friends; some at church and some at work. Each of them have struggles that they don’t feel comfortable sharing. Some of them because of their position at work, some of them because they fear the reaction of those around them, and some because of the stigma attached. I myself struggle with several of these, all of which isolate me from most of the people in my life.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1Corinthians 12:26

I can’t tell you how many times I longed for a breakfast table with a cup of coffee and a friend just to share my thoughts with, and I know it’s not just me. I know there are literally millions of people in the world whose lives would be exponentially better because of a phone call, a drop by, or a surprise pumpkin spice latte (had to put that in there).

If each of us took just a few extra minutes during the day, let’s say 10, (everyone can find 10 minutes) to reach out to someone in our circle and let them know how important they are, that you are there for them, that they are loved and valued…you may be surprised at the result. You may be surprised to find one of your friends thanking you, because that was exactly what they needed to hear…you may be surprised to find you saved someone’s life.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, …” Philippians 2:1-7

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

#Parentingishard … #GodisGood

#Parentingishard“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7-11

Can you imagine how it must have felt for God to experience His children’s extreme disobedience? To take it one step farther to have His children completely turn their backs on Him. After He created the world for them; He rescued them countless times from their enemies, blessed, raised up, and set them above…they still turned their back on Him, denied Him, cursed Him and turned their hearts toward that which is death. They chose death over their creator? It’s mind boggling, or is it?

For those of you with children, I want you to think about all those times our kids thought they knew better, turned their back on what they knew (because we taught them) and turned toward the unknown because their friends encouraged them, or a teacher encouraged them, or they were dared too, or we just aren’t as cool as whatever shiny object in the world is calling them. Yup, we’ve been there!

Recently my 8-year-old son has been going through a ‘phase’. Which basically means he knows better, and he wants what he wants, and he isn’t afraid to tell me so. In fact, more than once in the past few weeks I’ve been told how inadequate I am at parenting by this lil man. I will own however, how much it hurts.

This past weekend was particularly difficult, he had made some poor choices at school with regards to him listening and participating in class which led to him not being able to play Madden on Saturday (he’s preparing for football season to start and this is the ultimate consequence). This did NOT go over well. The conversation quickly turned in to a shouting match, which then turned in to him throwing everything at me he could get his hands on…primarily shoes. He’d yell at me about how mean I am, I would tell him that I love him, he would retort that if I loved him I’d let him play, I responded that I love him so much that I am not willing to reward him for bad behavior. On and on it went until we reached the apex of, “I hate you mom”, yup he said it, my heart was broken, I cried and told him one more time that I loved him and had to walk away.

To be clear, I know my son loves me, I would never doubt that. He is an 8-year-old who is trying to flex his muscles and find his way in the world. No throwing shoes at your mom is NOT ok in our home and was quickly addressed. That is not the point however, the point is that we as parents have a small glimpse of how God must have felt and now still feels toward His rebellious children. He loves us, he won’t give us everything we ‘want’ because it is often not what is best for us. And, like I tell my son, throwing a temper tantrum, is not going to change that. Giving in to their every whim is only going to make it worse and the important life lessons we want to teach them will be lost.

I love my son so much (all my children but this particular tale is about him), so I’m not going to give up, I’m not going to give in, I want him to be the amazing man that God has created him to be. Sometimes that means my patience is tested, my heart will ache, and my temper will rise. It’s all worth it because I KNOW that when he stops for a moment (usually takes about 20 minutes in his room), he’ll accept that what I tell him is true, that it is out of love, and that I only want what is best for him. He’ll see how I handle the situation (they notice EVERYTHING) and will learn from my responses that they are motivated by a genuine love for him.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans (along with many many other places throughout the bible) he shares the epitome of God’s love “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

God didn’t wait for us to get our act together to show us love, he didn’t abandon us to our own devices, no, in the midst of our pain and brokenness, in the middle of our sin and disobedience, he sent Christ to die for us…to show us the way, to bring us back to him, to fully express the depth of his love.

I will always love my son, forgive my son and be the best parent I can for him. Sometimes however, that means not giving him what he thinks will make him happy but giving him what will make him whole.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

Don’t Be Roadkill!

squirrel-in-the-road.jpg“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

A friend of mine shared a story with me a few years ago that has stuck with me. At the time we were discussing some of our students and how they seem to get stuck and not able to move forward toward their goal. I kept commenting that even though they can see the path, because that path is new and unfamiliar they are more likely to do an about face and return to the familiar at the first sign of difficulty, it was maddening to see so many not achieve their goals when they were so close.

He told me a story about a little ambitious squirrel. One day he was standing by the side of the road looking off into the distance, he was hungry you see as there wasn’t much food on his side of the road. As he gazed across the vast paved expanse, he saw a huge tree full of acorns. It was like looking at the promised land…and yes, the grass really was greener.

So, this squirrel started across the road, he kept his eyes on the tree, on the acorns and steadily, he began making his way. Just when he had almost reached the other side, he heard a sound, and saw some lights in the distance, he paused and looked around, he took his eyes off the tree, off the acorns, and began looking back toward where he came. The noise got louder, and he got scared, and started to doubt his decision and his direction. He stood in the road paralyzed not knowing what to do as the sound got louder and the lights got brighter… should he continue on his path toward the unknown or should he quickly return to the familiar? The noise gets louder and louder and the lights brighter and brighter, the confused squirrel begins to wonder why he’s in the road, why he risked this danger, what was he thinking and quickly he begins to run back the way he came, without realizing how close he was to safety.

He runs frantically back across the road…but alas the distance is too great, and the squirrel doesn’t make it to safety before the car reaches him.

Moving toward the new is difficult, scary and just about anything in life coming at us can cause us to doubt. We must keep our eyes focused on Christ if we want to succeed. If we do that, if we put Him first then we will reach our destination.

Serious words…often they seem easier said than done.

Jesus asked us to put off the old, to stop living in the past, to move toward something new, to move toward Him. The Apostle Paul tells us, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” Ephesians 4:22-24

So then, why do we keep reverting back to our old ways, doing what we’ve always done instead of moving toward Christ and all the love and freedom and healing He has to offer?

The million-dollar question right?

Short answer FEAR, I found an acronym that sums it up pretty well; False Evidence Appearing Real. We too easily listen to the lies of; it’s too hard, too far, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve love, grace, forgiveness. The real evidence, the truth, is that Christ came to earth while we were still sinners to save us and reconcile us to God. Thankfully He didn’t wait until we were perfect, holy and healed (like that was going to happen without him). He came for you, me, everyone; that is the real evidence. Christ came to seek and save the lost, broken, sinful, disinherited, mournful, disenchanted and displaced. He came for each of us.

We don’t have to be scared, we don’t have to FEAR, we only need to have faith that God is who He says He is, not who we think He is. He keeps his promises, always and forever. All too often we give up and lose hope right as we approach the finish line, missing out on God’s blessing and favor.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Remember the squirrel, if he had just kept his eyes on the tree, kept moving forward, not only would he have made it to safety, he would have received all the abundance of blessing that was waiting for him.

I’d love to hear from you. Come back and visit at “Connectthedotblog”.

%d bloggers like this: