Progress Not Perfection

I started a “read the Bible in a year plan” on January 1.  I’ve always wanted to do that, and I decided 2016 would be the year.

I did well the first 15 days of January.  Then I got behind a few days, but was able to get caught up with a little bit of extra reading.

Then I got really behind.

And discouraged.

I poured out my heart to God that I had failed and felt so frustrated. Just as I was ready to give up on my reading plan, God brought to my mind three words that formed the foundation of No More Perfect Kids, the book I co-authored with Dr. Kathy Koch:

Progress, not perfection. 

Dr. Kathy and I wrote, “The middle ground of grace is where we need to plant ourselves and our kids. After all, progress is the goal. It’s not at all about being perfect, but it is about being perfected by the God who has a plan for our lives.”

Oh how I needed those words.

When we expect perfection, fail, and then give up, we stop growing.

When we progress–even imperfectly–we grow.

So I’m still reading. I’m planting God’s Word in my heart on the grace progression plan and I’m loving it.

I’m two weeks behind on the reading schedule, but I’m plugging away and not worrying about doing it perfectly. What’s most important is that I’m progressing.

And that’s the middle ground of grace I’m choosing to embrace.

What about you? Do you need to give yourself grace? What are you doing imperfectly that you need to keep plugging along and making progress in? 

Are You Looking At Life Through A Peephole?

Today’s post is from Julia White, an energetic warrior mama who loves to inspire the hearts of women with faith and encouragement. When Julia is not running back and forth to her two kids’ activities, she loves reading, music, and sharing stories with friends. Julia published her first book of devotionals in 2015 and runs an inspirational blog, providing weekly sparkle to those looking for God’s “jewels” in their own lives. She reminds us that even when we feel lost, God tells us we are beautiful and valuable, just as He made us.

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JuliaWinter is in full force here in the Midwest. Sparkling snow is on the ground, there’s a brisk chill in the air, and frost is glistening like diamonds on the trees. I love the way the world looks after a snow….calm, patient, gentle…and let’s face it…sparkly. I love me some sparkles.

Of course I also really appreciate the fact that I have a garage to park my van in so my vehicle is not as sparkly as my husband’s work truck in the morning. There’s no scraping or de-icing for me. I just jump in my van and go.

Our last house had outdoor parking and mornings were not quite as glorious as I tromped outside to turn on the car defroster and then set off to scrape my windows. It was a chore I was happy to give up when we moved.

Just recently a friend of mine and I were talking about how it probably doesn’t take more than 5-10 minutes to completely scrape the ice off your windshield, but how little patience we have for that chore some days.

In fact, what made us laugh the hardest was when we started talking about the driving “peephole.” You know, that 10 inch oval circle that appears when you turn on your car defroster and it finally melts enough where you think “Yep! Good enough to get going!”

So you scrunch down in your seat, peer intently out your peephole and navigate your car out of your driveway and down the road. You would think our years of experience with snow and ice would have helped us build different habits. All we have to do is actually wait the 15 minutes it takes for the car to warm up and clear the entire windshield. But instead, our years of experience have led us to choose the opposite. We rationalize,“I’ll just start moving now because by the time I get anywhere that I REALLY need to see my windshield will be clear.”

I honestly remember driving to work more than once where I had to roll down the side windows before I turned so I could check for oncoming traffic. I knew it was a safety issue. But some days….I just didn’t want to take the time to do the work.  It was a bad habit, but one that was hard to break.

This happens in our lives, too. Kids have activities to do, guests are coming over, houses don’t clean themselves, and by golly these people in our lives demand to be fed…every day…over and over. And sometimes our responsibilities and “what needs to be done” start to cloud our vision.

While this happens with our kids, I would even boldly say it happens more often in our marriages and our friendships. Why do I always have to be the tough parent? Why didn’t HE help with the dishes? Why can’t THEY run the errands? We scrunch down in our seats and peer intently through our opinions of WHAT needs to be done and by WHO…and our 10 inch oval keeps getting smaller and smaller.

God reminds us there is a different way. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Or the other translation I like is “ A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

We are not alone, despite what our small peephole would lead us to believe at times. While we are focused and intent on driving our families forward, we also need to take the time to wait before we move forward safely.

Instead of just plunging forward and hoping that everything will be as it should be by the time we get there….we need to start instead with a clear purpose.

Start with open eyes that see the other people God has given you on your team. The ones that you can stand back-to-back with and conquer everything this life throws your way.

Take the time to connect with your husband and friends. Just 5 minutes of talking to them about how you can pray for them today can reveal a whole world of worry or joy that we would have missed otherwise!

Take the time to let God reveal the bigger picture and connect you to His purpose.

Like that freshly fallen snow, God’s love is always around us…calm, patient, and gentle…and maybe even a little sparkly. So, let’s not continue to drive blindly just because it’s a habit. God has so much more for us to see.

God, thank you for your many gifts. I’m grateful for friends and loved ones who walk this journey with me. Thank you for this reminder to open my eyes. Help me to drop the habit of looking at life through a peephole and missing the bigger picture. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Heart Remodel

“Honey, you won’t believe this! One of the stores I install countertops for made the quartz kitchen counters wrong for this job I’m doing. The thing is…they made them wrong two times! To make up for the time I’ve not been able to be paid for (no homeowner will pay for the installer’s time for a product made wrong) they are giving me the countertops. We can finally renovate our kitchen!”

pic 2That was the announcement my contractor-husband made just about one year ago. The quartz sat in our garage until we could have a yard sale this summer, netting us $1300 for the remodel, (and cleaning out our nearly empty-nest house!).

Our kitchen cabinets really need to be replaced but we don’t have the money for that so they will be repaired and painted.

A couple of walls have come down, opening up the house in new and wonderful ways.

While taking down the paneling (yes wall paneling we Jan 2016 Blog Photosactually wallpapered nearly 20 years ago when we bought the house!) and replacing it with drywall, we have discovered five layers of wallpaper indicating the decorating history over the last 103 years of our home’s existence.

There’s a layer of dust in every nook and cranny of this house that I’m not even touching until we’re done.

It’s a labor of love for a home we dedicated to God almost 20 years ago when we moved in.

photo 3These walls have watched our children grow, witnessed marriages restored (including our own), welcomed our adopted child into our family, and hosted dozens of back-to-school parties, prom picture-taking, birthdays celebrations, holiday dinners, cookie baking gatherings, Bible studies, Hearts at Home and church gatherings, engagements, grandchildren visits, and more.

It’s only a house…but it’s our home. It’s quite the mess right now…but aren’t we all?

This renovation makes me think of the renovating work God does in our lives. If we allow Him to, He tears down walls in order to open our heart up. He puts a fresh coat of paint on the worn-out places in our lives. He reveals sin and helps us to see our need for repentance. He peels away the layers of hurt and redeems them for His purposes.

Where does God want to do a renovating work in your life? In your heart? In your marriage? No matter your age, season of life, or spiritual condition, there’s always a remodel waiting to happen in some area of our life.

My encouragement to you is to say yes to the change He’s pressing on your heart today.

Soul Care: Breathe

ThinkstockPhotos-482224799Last week I took a first ever four-day Silence and Solitude retreat all by myself. My body was tired, my soul was dry, and I knew I just needed to be with Jesus.  I shared a couple weeks ago how I made the decision to take this soul care retreat.

As an introvert, I looked forward to the alone time. Still, though, I worried about being completely alone for four days. I admit being a little stir crazy the second day, but that soon subsided as I embraced the reality that I really wasn’t alone.

I chose to simplify life for those four days in order to really focus on Jesus.  A four-day juice fast helped me step away from food but not nutrition. For two of the four days I also fasted from driving, social media, computer, and make-up (loved the freedom!)

My first day I napped three times! Can you say tired?  Oh. My. Goodness. Three naps…and I still went to sleep that night! I found myself sitting and staring….a lot.  Talking with God in short thoughts. Reading my Bible and then falling asleep.  “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” 

In fasting from driving, I fell in love with walking. I walked to the store. I walked on the beach. I walked and prayed. I walked and did lots of thinking. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

In fasting from the computer and social media, I turned to the Bible more and more. I picked up and read one (short) book of the Bible. Then another. By the end of my four days I had read ten books of the Bible. My soul was finding it’s sustenance in God’s word. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord…” Jeremiah 15:16

In fasting from food, I removed distraction from my head and my heart. I experienced a break in cravings that I often fight…even in my clean eating journey. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

In time God began to whisper single words to me:

Rest

Breathe

Slow Down

Depend

Reset

I returned home refreshed like never before. It was a spiritual reboot I’m grateful I experienced.

Now as I’m back into the rhythm of life, the challenge is finding ways to keep those whispered words a regular part of my life: rest, breathe, slow down, depend, reset.

I’m finding that taking a deep breath can immediately change my body’s response to stress. I’m finding an earlier bedtime is providing the rest I need on a regular basis. I’m finding that putting less on my calendar is bringing balance back to my life. I’m finding that placing my challenges in the hands of God quicker is increasing my dependence on Him. Finally, I’m finding that I need to be intentional about “rebooting” each and every day with God’s word because this gives me His perspective throughout the day.

No one can care for your soul but you. You may have little ones clawing at you every hour of the day, but they need you to practice the art of soul care in some way. Maybe it’s taking the first 15 minutes of naptime to breathe and rest. Maybe it’s scheduling one night a week to head out without kids and go to the library to read. Maybe it’s meeting a friend for coffee and praying together.  Maybe it’s a few minutes of memorizing God’s Word every morning.

Four days was a rare experience of heaven on earth, but four minutes is what you and I have to find each and every day to breathe.

Be Still and Know

ThinkstockPhotos-100612691It all started with the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in August. Several speakers talked about the value of getting alone with God.  However, it was the statement that several speakers made about “not being able to hear God until the 3rd day,” that really challenged me.

I’ve practiced silence and solitude over the years. For several years after all my kids were school age, I labeled Tuesday as my “prayer and prep” day where I spent extended time with God and used the time for writing or speaking preparation. I’ve also spent time at my friend’s prayer cabin and even done 24 hours of silence and solitude at a retreat center. “Not hearing God ’til the 3rd day,” well I’ve never done more than one day!

My friend, Becky, suggested we take a few days at a retreat center in a nearby town. I was sharing this idea with my friend Julie Barnhill who pushed back on me going to the retreat center. “Jill, what environment connects you best with God?” she asked.  “The mountains or the ocean,” I easily replied. “Then why in the world would you tuck yourself away for three days in a retreat center?” she challenged. “Because it’s convenient,” I responded. “That answer isn’t good enough,” she declared.

Gotta love a friend who isn’t afraid to shoot straight.

I began thinking and praying about her challenge. As I was planning a trip to Atlanta, Georgia for speaking, it struck me that when I’m in Atlanta, I’m only 5 hours from my parent’s condo in the Florida panhandle. What if I took some extra days to seek solace in a place where I easily connect to God?  The condo was available and the plan was set in place.

I’m going to unplug for a few days. There won’t be a Marriage Monday this coming week. I’m fasting for a couple of days from social media. I feel like God is whispering “rest in me and soak in my Word.”  Quite honestly I’m hungry for this time away.

Psalm 46:10 reminds us to “be still and know that I am God.” Whether that’s carving out five minutes in the morning, taking a couple of hours at a coffee shop, or setting aside a few days to spend with the Lord, we have to be intentional about taking deep spiritual breaths.

Need some encouragement on the subject?  These books have been instrumental in deepening my time with God:

Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence
by Ruth Haley Barton

Too Busy Not to Pray
by Bill Hybels

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth
by Richard Foster

Come Along: The Journey into a More Intimate Faith
by Jane Rubietta

Come Closer: A Call to Life, Love, and Breakfast on the Beach
by Jane Rubietta

Resting Place: A Personal Guide to Spiritual Retreats
by Jane Rubietta

Grace Points: Growth and Guidance in Times of Change
by Jane Rubietta

Quiet Places: A Women’s Guide to Personal Retreat
by Jane Rubietta

What about you? How do you slow down to be with God? Have you ever done a spiritual retreat? Do you have any resources you would add to this list? 

The Weight of the Wait

Today I’m experiencing the relief of good news. However, before the good news arrived, there were six days of “no news.” The journey of those five days is what’s on my mind today.

Last week I had my every three month oncologist appointment.  I mentioned to him about some chest pain I’d been experiencing. His physical exam found a “fullness” but no lump. He said he didn’t think it was cancer, but he wanted to order a CT Scan to be sure.

The scan was scheduled for last Friday. Argh. That meant no results until Monday at the earliest.

When I called for the results on Monday, I didn’t get a call back.

The waiting. The not-knowing. Those spaces are worse than “the knowing.” Truly they are. 

It was all I could do to not let fear grip my heart as I worked to push from my mind the possibility the cancer had returned.

There were moments where I almost literally felt the weight of the wait.

Indeed, waiting is part of life.

We wait for our prince charming to come along.

We wait for our wedding day.

We wait for a baby to be born.

We wait for the adoption to be finalized.

Each of those “waits” carry the anticipation of something good.

Sometimes waiting carries the anticipation of something bad. It’s this kind of “not knowing” and fearing the worse that can be the hardest part of waiting. 

We wait for a prodigal to come home. Not knowing if he or she is safe or okay.

We wait for a loved one to return to God.  Not knowing just how hard of a heart God is dealing with.

We wait for test results. Not knowing if the results will change the trajectory of our life in some way.

As the days of waiting lengthened and my anxiety increased, I realized I was no longer worshiping my God, but instead I was worshiping my circumstances.

Knowing I needed to get my head and my heart in the right place, I intentionally moved my eyes from the unknown to the known. From the changing to the unchanging. From the shifting sand to the Solid Rock.

“I the Lord do not change.” (Malachi 3:6a)

“The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Once my eyes were on the sure thing of Jesus Christ, I then worked my weight loss (or could it be wait loss?) program of moving the weight of anxiety from my shoulders to God’s hands. By the time I received the good news from my doctor that the scans were clear, I had experienced two full days of peace…even in the “not knowing.”

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you…” (Psalm 55:22a)

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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: 28-30)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. … (Matthew 6:25-34)

ThinkstockPhotos-181730586“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Are you waiting?  Feeling crushed by the weight of the wait?

Choose not to worship your circumstances. Choose to worship the God who will carry you through your circumstances.

Move your eyes from the changing to the unchanging, and let God lift the weight of the wait.

What about you? Are there any Bible verses that have helped you while waiting? 

Quote of the Week

Quote-of-the-Week pic“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now.”

                                                                        ~Elisabeth Elliot

7 Ways to Help A Friend In Crisis

ThinkstockPhotos-78805527My friend Cheri Keaggy released a powerful album three years ago. “So I Can Tell” is the light that has come out of a dark season of Cheri’s life.  The songs are heartfelt expressions of a woman who has come to know God deeply.

She sent one my way three years ago when my marriage when through it’s darkest season of Mark’s infidelity and decision to leave for three months.

When I got to the 3rd song on the album, the tears started flowing.  The song was titled, “When You Were Jesus To Me.”  Until the night that Mark left, I had never experienced anything close to an emotional crisis.  I was so crushed by grief that it was squeezing the life out of me. Even cancer wasn’t as hard as the emotional pain I experienced in that season of my marriage.

As I walked through that dark season, God greatly increased my empathy, compassion, and mercy.  More than that, through the loving actions of my dearest friends, He also showed me how to respond in a crisis.  My friends were truly Jesus to me.

You may not need this now…but at some point, it’s likely you’ll have the opportunity to “be Jesus with skin on” to someone else.  Here are some tangible ways to make a difference when a friend faces a crisis:

1) Be there. Stay with her. Don’t feel like you need to say any words, just hold her and let her weep.  My friend Becky did this for me. She was at my house within the hour and she didn’t leave until two days later.  I’m grateful even three years later to Becky’s husband, Dave, who supported her staying with me for that long.  Eventually my sister came for a couple of days and then my dad came and stayed for 4 more days.  This support was so important for me and for my boys who were still at home.

2) Think for the person. When crisis hits, the last thing that person can do is think about taking care of themselves. In those first few days, I honestly don’t think I would have  had anything to eat or drink if Becky or my sister Juli had not actually put the plate of food or the glass of water in front of me and said, “Eat” or “Drink.”

3) Provide food. My friends Crystal and Lisa, who also stayed with me until well after midnight the first night, brought meals throughout that first weekend.  Eventually my Hearts at Home family and church family set up a meal plan for several weeks.  This was so helpful because I suddenly had so many other things I had to tend to.

4) Help with daily routine stuff. Becky, Crystal, and Juli cleaned, did dishes, made guest beds, ran to the store, picked up prescriptions…you name it…they did it.  I was so thankful.  For the first month, my friend Crystal called me anytime she was running to the store to see if I needed anything.  I was so thankful because this kept me out of public settings where I could lose it emotionally so easily.

5) Do any “unpleasant” tasks.  When Mark requested more of his personal belongings, I could not handle packing those things up. Crystal and Becky did that job for me.  If the crisis involves a death, this can particularly be helpful when that friend is ready to part with the personal belongings of the person who has died.  Even answering phone calls can be an “unpleasant” task…don’t hesitate to do that for the person to protect them from having to share the story one more time.

6) Don’t be afraid to help.  If you are a close friend or you seem to be the only person reaching out, you are not infringing on their privacy…you are helping them survive.  I always worried about infringing on someone’s privacy in times of crisis until I was on the receiving side of crisis.  I had trouble functioning, especially in the early days.  I was so thankful for friends and family who didn’t leave my side.

7) Pray with and for the person.  When in crisis, there are sometimes no words to utter to God…just tears.  Sometimes you can just be there and sometimes you can be the one to utter the words to God on their behalf.

We all need each other. In good times and bad, we’re designed to live in community with other people. That’s why I’m writing the next Hearts at Home book Better Together. That’s why we’re focusing on mom relationships at our 2016 Hearts at Home conferences. And that’s why I wanted to share with you today some practical ways to live that out.

Because your friend will never forget when you were Jesus to her.

What about you? Have you ever been loved well through a crisis? What would you add to this list?