Your Top Five Posts of 2016

your-top-five-posts-of-2016

2016 was quite a year! For me, it was time chock-full of family visits, writing, and volunteer work. How about you?

During January I often take time to evaluate the year before. So today I took a few minutes to check out what interested you–my readers–most in 2016. Here are your favorite five posts! Reread and be reinspired!

What to Pray When You Don’t Know What to Pray

Luke 18-13Sometimes I struggle with prayer. How to pray. What to pray. When to find time to pray. And how on earth can I accomplish prayer without ceasing? This post talks about a short prayer that I use when I don’t know what to pray. Check out this prayer that has been used for centuries.

Breathe in your Savior’s name and breathe out a desperate prayer for grace. Click To Tweet
Five Creative Ways to Encourage Someone

encourage

Hebrews 10:24 says, Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out (The Message). I want to be an encourager, but I sometimes struggle with how to be supportive. This post gives a few ideas.

Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out. (Hebrews 10:24 MSG) Click To Tweet
7 Habits That Promote Soul Rest

soulrest

Soul rest. That’s what we all need. The kind of rest that calms our hearts. The kind of respite that obliterates restlessness in our spirits.The kind of stillness that cancels out the craziness of this world like noise-cancelling headphones wipe out any pandemonium around us.

This post introduces the concept of soul rest and the habits that can lead us into that rest by drawing us into the presence of the Lord.

Soul rest is the rest that calms our hearts. It is the rest that draws us into the presence of the Lord. Click To Tweet
When You’re Feeling Unsettled, Dissatisfied

unsettled soul

When I’m feeling dissatisfied with my life or when I’m feeling unsettled, it is often because I have forgotten one crucial thing. Find out what that is in this post. When we’re facing loss and discouragement, we can realize that God has already given us what we need.

Even when I'm feeling unsettled and dissatisfied, Jesus knows what I need most. Click To Tweet
How to Truly Love Yourself

1 John 4-16

This post was inspired by a devotion I read by a tenth-century monk on the four degrees of love. Click to read about these four degrees of love and how the fourth degree allows us to love ourselves so that we can love others well.

We don’t love ourselves because we deserve love. We love ourselves because we see ourselves through God’s eyes. Click To Tweet

Next step: What do you most need today? Help with prayer, encouragement, soul rest, dissatisfaction, or loving yourself? Read the corresponding article and find hope in God’s Word.

your-top-5-posts-of-2016

When You’re Floored By Bad News

 

TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY

Christmas is a joyous season, but for some it doesn’t feel that way.

I understand. Some of the most painful events in my life happened in the month of December. The two miscarriages I experienced both happened in that month. My father died on December 7 in 2001. It was Christmas Day when we found out that my husband’s father had passed away.

Sometimes the happiness of the season only amplifies your pain.

Maybe this year you didn’t have a lot of good news. In fact, you had more than your fair share of bad news. Perhaps your job disappeared in the sinking economy. Or your doctor gave a diagnosis without much hope. Or you lost a loved one. You are waiting and hoping for some good news.

I bet the shepherds near Bethlehem on that Christmas night felt much the same way. The whole nation of Israel had been groaning under Roman rule. They were tired of seeing foreign soldiers in the streets. They were tired of obeying a ruler who lived far away. Life seemed like a long string of bad news.

So when the angel announced that he had good news for them, he immediately had the shepherds’ attention:

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

The shepherds didn’t waste any time in going to see what all the good news was about. They raced to Bethlehem to see the baby and immediately told others the good news (Luke 2:17). They praised God for all they had seen and heard (Luke 2:20).

As I think about the shepherd’s response I am humbled. 

You see, the good news they received did not immediately change their financial situation. Sharing the good news probably gave them their 15 minutes of fame, but it didn’t get them wealth or power.

Still, they realized that this was the best good news and so they told others and praised God.

I, on the other hand, may not always be exuberant about the good news of the Savior. I’m tempted to continue to focus on the bad news: the doctor’s diagnosis or the generally lousy state of the economy. I forget that the good news of Jesus overcomes any of the rotten news of this world. Yes, things might not improve right away, but God promises a happy ending in heaven for those who trust in the Babe of Bethlehem.

So this Christmas I’m praying that I will be more like the shepherds–rejoicing in the best news ever!

The good news of Jesus overcomes any of the lousy news of this world. Click To Tweet

Jesus Christ is born! We are rescued from sin and death! In Christ we have life and peace! We are welcomed into God’s family. 

Next step: Write a prayer thanking God for the best news ever. And if this year is one of those years with more bad news than good, I would be honored to pray for you. Send me an email or share your prayer requests in the comments below.

THE shepherds

4 Steps to Take When You’re Discouraged

WHEN I'M IN THE DESERT OF DISAPPOINTMENTI NEED TO REMEMBERONLY GOD CAN QUENCH MY THRIST

Years ago a friend came to our house broken and discouraged. His heart was more than bruised. It had been stomped on, kicked in, and used as a punching bag.

His wife had just asked for a divorce.

My husband is a pastor and this man was not only a friend, but a member of our congregation. He came to my husband for counseling. For support.

That first night all we did was hug him. Cry with him.Sit in shock with him.

He came often to talk with my husband, but one day he arrived when my husband wasn’t home yet. This twenty-something man shuffled in like a person sixty years older. Shoulders slumped, he made his way to the sofa, but didn’t even make it to the seat. Instead he slid down to the floor in a ball of tears and desperation.

My kids were running around the house and I wasn’t sure what to do. So I just slumped down on the floor, leaning against a nearby chair, and sat with him.

As his sadness permeated the room and my own soul, I remembered Psalm 42–the place I always go when my heart is shattered. While we sat on the floor I shared how this psalm encourages me when I’m in a pit of discouragement.

Acknowledge the Feelings

King David must have been in a broken state when he wrote the words:

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad? (Psalm 42:5a)

I love how David talks to his soul. He takes the first step and acknowledges the sadness, the depression, the emptiness.

The first step I take is to recognize all the pain in my heart. I name the emotions no matter how ugly. 

4 STEPS-DISCOURAGEDLook Toward God

But David doesn’t let his heart stay in that desperate place. He immediately encourages his soul:

I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and  my God! (Psalm 42:5b)

The second step to take when I’m heartbroken and discouraged is to stop looking at the problem and remind my heart to look toward God. 

After I acknowledge my discouragement I need to turn to the Source of hope.

Remember God’s Help in the Past

Next I need to remember how God has brought me through all my other deep and desperate places. David wrote:

 Now I am deeply discouraged,
    but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
    from the land of Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:6)

I need to recall how the Lord has guided me through my valleys and back to the mountaintop. He has brought me through sadness and depression before. He will do it again.

Turn Times of Discouragement Into Times of Intimacy with God.

Finally, I need to realize that times of discouragement can be a time of intimacy with God. 

David wrote:

As the deer longs for streams of water,
    song for you, O God. Psalm 42:1

When the world stomps on my heart there is Someone who can mend it. and satisfy my soul. When I face deserts of disappointment, I need to realize that God is the only One who can truly quench my thirst and satisfy my soul.

When I face deserts of disappointment, I realize God is the only One who can truly quench my thirst. Click To Tweet

I’m not sure my words of encouragement helped my friend going through a divorce more than just sitting with him.

But Psalm 42 is the place I go when discouragement and disappointment visit my life.


Psalm 42 is the first psalm in Book II which includes Psalms 42-75. This book of psalms is sometimes called the “Elohim Psalter Part 1” because Elohim is the name for God used most often. Elohim is the Hebrew name for God that is used in the very first sentence of the Bible. So the name Elohim reminds us that He is the Creator, the One who began it all. Many of the psalms in Book II are written by David, but some are written by the sons of Korah– Levites that David put in charge of music at the tabernacle.


 

Next step: Are you brokenhearted or discouraged? Which of the four steps do you need to take today? Acknowledging your feeling? Looking away from the problem and toward God? Remember God’s help in the past? Realizing this time of disappointment may lead to greater intimacy with God? Journal your response.

Why We All Need a Little Encouragement

1 Thessalonians 5-11

When I was in third grade, my teacher got sick. Really sick. In fact, she got cancer and left the classroom. In our little eight-year-old minds, my classmates and I wondered if she got sick because we were horribly bad kids. So we behaved like little angels for the string of substitute teachers that passed through our lives. Finally a new permanent teacher came along–Miss Marquardt.

Little did I know that not only would Miss Marquardt get me through the rest of third grade–she would get me through the next few decades of my life. She was the kind of person that could see potential in someone else. She would name that potential, nurture it, water it, and help it grow.

Miss Marquardt saw musical potential in me. I’m not sure how she was able to spot it in my halting performances, but she did. Long after third grade she continued to encourage me by listening to me play the piano, giving me organ books, signing me up for an organ competition, and even driving me to the event.I think her belief in me was one of the reasons I persevered long enough to get a music degree.

WhyWeNeedEncouragementNot long ago I was talking with a fellow writer who is working on her doctorate. Her dissertation is studying the perseverance it takes to complete a Masters degree. Her research led her to look at women who pursue advanced degrees in math or science, because these areas are not traditionally female. It turned out that the women who were able to complete degrees in math or science all had at least one person who cheered them on. Maybe it was a parent. Maybe a spouse. Maybe a friend.

They had someone who saw their potential.

They had someone who nurtured the seed of their abilities.

They had someone who believed in them.

We all need someone like that in our lives. Who in your family, in your workplace, in your church looks like they need a little encouragement?

It is our job as a member of the body of Christ to give that encouragement.

Notice potential. Name it, nurture it, and watch it grow.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Next step: Name one person in your life who needs some encouragement right now. Call them up. Or hit send on an uplifting email. Or put a note in the mailbox telling them you believe in them.

Bless These LipsFor more information on encouraging others and influencing your world with your words, check out my book: Bless These Lips.

 

When Your Part Seems Small: Playing in the Symphony of Life

If you are feeling unnoticed read why you are really indespensible.

Every so often I persuade my husband to attend a concert of classical music with me  A while ago we traveled into the city to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

As soon as we found our seats, I knew something special was going to happen. On the stage, behind the chairs set up for the string section, sat six harps. I had never seen so many harps in one place! I could hardly wait to hear what fantastic part they would play in the opening music by Wagner.

But wait is what I did. The harpists sat for almost twenty minutes while the violinists and cellists moved their bows over their strings, while the flautists and oboists blew their horns, while the percussionists banged drums and clashed cymbals.

Finally, at the end of the Wagner pieces, the harpists pulled their harps toward their shoulders and began to pluck strings. But still I could barely hear them because, as they were plucking, drums were pounding, trumpets were blowing.

I wondered if the harpists were disappointed that they didn’t have a bigger part to play in the performance.

Truth be told, I sometimes feel like those harpists.

In the performance of life, it often seems like I do more waiting than performing. And when my time comes to play, hardly anyone notices. I sometimes feel that in the grand symphony of life, the part I play is very small. I wonder if I can make any difference at all.

When I read 1 Corinthians I wonder if some of the people that the apostle Paul was writing to in Corinth were feeling the same way. Paul uses the analogy of the body and tells the Corinthians that as Christians we are all part of Christ’s body. Some of us are eyes, some are ears, some are hands. But we are all important.

In fact, he writes:

Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.

(1 Corinthians 12:22)

When Wagner composed the piece for orchestra, he considered the harpists indispensable. Otherwise, he would not have included them. The timbre of the plucking strings was necessary for the sound he wanted to achieve. Though they waited a long to play and had a small part, the music would not have been the same without them.

Though we may wait for a long time to play our part, even though our part may seem small, it is crucial in God’s symphony of life. He made each of us for a specific purpose and role. He wants us to know our worth in His plan.

In God’s symphony of life, you are indispensable.

Question: How do you see your current role in God’s symphony of life? Waiting? Playing?

indispensable

The One Way to Truly Manage Stress

stress2

A young woman rushes into Starbucks, brows knitted, fists clenched tight and orders a Venti Mocha Latte, “Double espresso please.”

A child chews on the eraser end of her pencil as bends over her social studies test.

Fighting through rush-hour traffic a man tightly grips his steering wheel and screams at the driver who just cut him off.

 

What do all these people have in common?

Stress.

This weekend I attended a workshop on overcoming stress. There is no way to escape stress. We all face work deadlines, family responsibilities, monthly bills, crazy-mad traffic and long, long, long checkout lines.

The speaker at the workshop said that while stress solutions like deep breathing and cat naps might reduce stress for awhile, there is only one real way to truly manage stress.

Change your mindset.

Since we can’t change the length of the checkout line or the work deadline we must change how we think about them.

Often when we are under stress we have a series of sentences we repeat over and over to ourselves. For instance, when a work deadline looms your brain might sing a refrain of:

I’m just no good at this.

I’ll never get the project done on time.

Surely, I will fail.

These choruses will not reduce stress–only increase them. What we need to do instead is pop in a new CD in our heads with a different song. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m no good at this” you might tell yourself “The boss wouldn’t give me this job if she didn’t think I could do it” or “I mastered that other difficult program, I will conquer this task too.”

As Christians we can take this on step further and use the power of Scripture to compose our truth songs. When the brain starts singing the tune “I’m no good at this” you can counter with

 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

or

“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” (Psalm 18:32)

Use the power of Scripture to combat stress!

Question: What is your favorite Scripture to combat stress?

phil 4-13

Pray Without Ceasing

1 Thess 5-17

“Pray without ceasing.”

 1 Thessalonians 5:17

I don’t know about you, but I have always struggled with the apostle Paul’s command to pray continually. It always seemed like an impossible request. How could I possibly pray without ceasing?

Then a few years ago, when I was worried about a situation in my life, I thought of how that concern was on my mind all the time. I didn’t simply think about the problem once in the morning and once before I went to bed. It was continually weighing on my mind. Then I thought: What if I turned every worry into a prayer? I would be praying without ceasing! (Well, almost anyway.)

Awhile ago I read Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst where she talks about her struggles with healthy eating. Lysa used a similar prayer tactic: Whenever she had a yen for foods that she had eliminated from her diet, she talked to God about the craving instead of giving in.

We can also use this tactic with our words. Use ordinary events in your day as reminders to pray.

Before our husbands come home from work, let’s pray that our words will build them up.

Before we meet a friend for coffee, let’s ask God to guide our conversations.

Before our kids come home from school, let’s pray for listening ears and loving hearts.

Use times of everyday conversation to trigger a prayer for lips that bless the people in your life. It will be a step toward more conversations with God and better conversations with the people you love.

Question: How do practice prayer without ceasing?

Five Creative Ways to Encourage Someone

Back when my kids were young and parenting was a full-time job, when work was not finished when we arrived home from the office, and a full night’s sleep was an illusive dream, I noticed that my husband was looking a little fatigued. A bit weary. A tad defeated.

So I said to my children, “Let’s do something special for Daddy. Let’s give him a party!” They were at the age where they got excited about any kind of party, even a play tea party with the teddy bears, so they quickly got on board. Even though it wasn’t anywhere near my husband’s birthday or Father’s day, we made him his favorite meal, set the table in the dining room, and made some big banners that said, “We love you Daddy!”

The look on John’s face when he came home that night was worth all of our extra effort. His sagging shoulders lifted just a bit and the tiredness in his face dissolved into a smile. The surprise of a dinner in his honor on an ordinary Friday helped to encourage him and let him know we appreciated all of his efforts to support the family.

I was reminded of this little party when I recently read Hebrews 10:24 in The Message:

Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.

I have read this verse in other translations like the English Standard Version:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

But I liked the idea of being inventive when we are encouraging others.

Mind you, I’m not all that creative when it comes to encouragement. Sadly, the surprise party of my husband was the only example I could come up with for my own inventive efforts. So I did a little research to come up with a few more ideas besides my own.

  1. Give someone a party for no reason in particular. Like the celebration of Dad that my children helped me to pull off, doing something special for someone when it isn’t expected is especially meaningful.
  2. Give an anonymous gift. Secretly sending a card or gift to someone you know could use a lift can make a huge difference in their life.
  3. Give a book or CD that has blessed you. Obviously, don’t give a diet book or financial self-help book, but one that offers hope on every page. My friend, Linda, gave me the book Jesus Calling last year and in this way has been encouraging me every day.
  4. Run an errand for them. Before my husband heads out to the hardware store or Walmart, he always asks if I need anything. It’s a simple idea that could be expanded to the new mom down the block, the senior citizen you know from church, the friend who is struggling with the blues. Taking a couple of extra minutes to drop off a needed item for someone else could be a simple way to show support.
  5. Find out the other person’s love language. Make your creativity really pay off by matching it with what makes the other person feel special. Does he like gifts? Find something related to his hobby. Quality time? Take her out to lunch. Physical touch? Give a back rub or send a gift card for a massage. Do a little investigating and your encouragement will hit the mark.

Encouragement is fuel for our souls.

It’s what we all need to continue to fulfill our responsibilities and chase our dreams.

Frankly, some days it’s what we need to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging each other.

Question: What is the most creative way someone has encouraged you?

 

Finding Purpose in the Wait

Psalm 2714

Elizabeth had a long wait.

The Bible tells us that the mother of John the Baptist was “advanced in years” when she gave birth to him.

Elizabeth waited a long time to be a mother. She probably questioned her purpose in life from time to time. But when she received the mission of bringing the forerunner of the Savior into the world, she was also given the task to mentor and encourage the mother of the Messiah.

The angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Don’t you love it? God knew that Mary would need someone to encourage her and help her on this new journey. So He provided Elizabeth.

And if you think about it–Elizabeth was the perfect person to encourage Mary.

  • Elizabeth lived away from Nazareth. Commentators speculate that Elizabeth lived in Hebron—which was about 80 miles from Nazareth—a four-day journey for Mary. It was a bit of a trek, but far enough away from the prying eyes of neighbors.
  • Elizabeth was pregnant. Elizabeth and Mary could commiserate over morning sickness and swollen ankles. Mary didn’t have “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” It was helpful to have someone share what was ahead in this exciting new experience.
  • Elizabeth was experiencing her own miracle. She wouldn’t laugh in disbelief at Mary’s preposterous story about an angel and a miracle birth because her husband had also had a visit with an angel. Elizabeth was pregnant even though humanly speaking it was impossible.
  • Elizabeth knew the sting of reproach even though she had done nothing wrong. She was upright in the sight of God, but the first thing she does when she finds out she is with child is thank God for taking away her disgrace among the people. She would be able to give Mary advice on how to deal with the gossip and criticism that were sure to come.

Think about it. If God had answered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer for a baby sooner, she would not have fulfilled the role of Mary’s mentor so perfectly. Sure, she could have given birth to John the Baptist when she was twenty—but that would not have been as miraculous as having a baby at fifty or sixty. Perhaps she would have doubted Mary’s tale of an angel and a virgin pregnancy. She would not have had experience with the neighborhood gossip mill.

Our own experiences of waiting can connect us to other people going through similar situations. Just like Elizabeth and Mary, we can become connected in the waiting. We can use what we learned in our waiting times to encourage those who are traveling a similar path.

Wherever you are in life, remember that everything you are going through right now matters. All the waiting that Elizabeth went through prepared her for her most important role. All the years of waiting for an answered prayer drew her closer to God.

While we may never grow to like it—waiting serves a purpose. We can grow closer to Him when we expect God to accomplish something bigger than we can imagine. And we can connect to others by using the wait as a course in encouragement.

Question: How can you use what you have learned in waiting times to encourage others?

 

 

Top Five Valentine Ideas

My top 5 Valentine ideas for your sweetie, your kids, your friends, even yourself.

Valentine’s Day is almost here!

 

You want to do something special for your sweetie or your kids or you most awesome friends. But what?

 

I combed the Internet and Pinterest for some ideas. There are some incredible projects out there! I picked out five of them that speak love, but are simple and easy to do.

 

Here’s one for your sweetie:

 

Frame a quote about love or even write your own words of love:

 

Here are some great quotes for Valentine’s Day. Here’s some more quotes about love.

Framed Love Quote Gift

Or:

Make up some chocolate fondue for your hubby or boyfriend. Take time for just the two of you to talk while you dip strawberries and cake into rich chocolate .

Chocolate Bar Fondue

 

Here’s one for your kids:

Cute little s’mores in a bag! Add a little tag that says, “Every day I like you s’more!”

Here’s one for your friends:

A simple bookmark made from a paper clip and some felt

And here’s God’s Valentine To You, reminding you how much He loves you:

valentine

Question: What is your favorite way to say “I Love You”!