Kingdom Living


Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

The arrival of Fall, kicks off several months of traditions for people around the globe. There are harvest festivals to attend, traditional family meals, trick-or-treating to do with the kids (if we’re honest though, some of us get more excited about Halloween than the kids do), gatherings and celebrations with friends, and of course the ultimate end-of-year holiday traditions surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Eve. 

For some, these are the most exciting and magical months in the year. Trees begin to change their coloring. Children squeal with delight at the piles of leaves to jump in and illuminated trees (Who are we kidding? Some adults do too). And the smells of cider and pumpkin spice bring back pleasant memories of fireside chats or visiting grandma’s house. For those that love the autumn and start of winter, the traditions they hold with the ones they love are cherished, making memories worth far more than the most extravagant present. 

However, for others, the beginning of Fall signals a time of sorrow or loneliness. In some cases, treasured family traditions once enjoyed have ended as loved ones have passed on or as relationships were severed. Every pleasant memory that comes to mind at the smell of a wood burning fireplace or hot apple cider is chased away by the reality of loss. Parties are hard to attend, the laughter and merriment surrounding them becomes a sharp reminder of what they don’t have, and even in some cases perhaps never had.

These have long been my favorite holidays and season of the year as far back as I can remember. However, in the past few years I’ve found my heart in a tug of war between the joys of traditions and magical memories versus the pain of loss. For the first time I moved beyond empathy for those who experience pain during the holidays, into sympathy as I walked through my own pain brought front and center with reminders of how so many things now are forever different. I’ve also been keenly aware of how frequently people talk about the end of the year with exhaustion, pain, and the desire to leave it behind. 

However, the truth that I’m re-learning in a new way, is that every year holds both pain … and joy, but we may have to put in some effort to find and remember the joy. 

A few years ago I went through the toughest season in my life. I cried loud tears when no one was around. I attended functions but felt disconnected. I recognized my sorrow was from wrecked dreams and empty traditions all lacquered with a happy veneer that some would say they envied. Meanwhile, I felt like I was drowning in hidden sorrow and pain. But I did my best to have fun and not be a buzz-kill. That year I started some new “traditions” (can it be a tradition if it’s the first time you’ve done it?), but still in the back of my heart was keen awareness of loss. It was no way to “celebrate” the holidays. It really wasn’t a great way to “make it through” the holidays either. I wondered how so many people could be happy and joyful around me when I was so hurt and afraid and sorrowful.  As I look back on it, I’m certain it was God’s grace and infusion of strength that got me through all of those broken dreams, but the details of how He did it all seem a blur. The only thing I remember with clarity is the feeling of heaviness.

This year has also had it’s struggles. There have been inner battles, wrestling with deep fears and anxieties, cancer scares, and saying an earthly good-bye to a dear family member just to name a few. However, this year I’m resolved to enter the holiday season with true thanksgiving and joy (not just happiness). I want to cultivate, live in, and record good memories and meaningful traditions. 

I am in no way trying to Pollyanna my way through the end of the year as if nothing hard or challenging has happened. On the contrary, it is the honesty of acknowledging the hardships that helps me to find and catalog true joys. A truth I have considered more times this year than in prior years is that what the enemy intended for evil in my life, God intends for good. This is not a religious platitude. This truth is much more empowering and emboldening. It means that I don’t have to shellac everything with “hard-earned happiness”, but that I can go through the hard stuff and be on the watch for The Father’s goodness toward me specifically.

Here are some things I know for sure as we enter this holiday season: 

  • Isolation isn’t better
  • A wandering, unoccupied mind is dangerous
  • A day lacking gratitude is guaranteed to be hard
  • Dwelling on the yesterdays with no thoughts for the tomorrows is living death

This year I want to be intentional about enjoying and using the time I have. I want to continue the traditions I’ve started with my kids: decorating cookies, attending Christmas festivals (maybe even ice skating), and making ornaments. And I want to look for things that I can do to feed my soul and strengthen my mind. Perhaps some of these are a good starting point:

  • Reading for enjoyment while having a fire on the tv and a cup of hot cider or cocoa in hand (Florida is a bit short on real fireplaces)
  • Indulge in one favorite holiday movie per weekend with a bag of popcorn and a soft blanket on my comfy couch
  • Meet a friend for a hot cup of our favorite whatever and have a nice long, laid back conversation about all our favorite topics
  • Make something special for someone else, like a blanket, or some cookies for the neighbors, or gifts for children who may have none
  • Create a list of scriptures and books and podcasts to keep my mind occupied and learning
  • Start new traditions with the ones I love
  • Write down at least three real things to be grateful for every day
  • Prayerfully give thought to the future and number my days rightly so that I can live and make the best use of the purpose for which God made me

And in all of this, when I feel heavy weight begin to creep (because it will), I will stop and actively look for what is good and reasons to give thanks. I know from personal experience that there is an unexplained peace and joy that replaces my sorrow when I begin to list as many things as I can think of that I’m thankful for.

There will undoubtedly still be moments of grief (this life isn’t perfect after all), but it is to my benefit (and yours) to grieve appropriately and move forward so that at the end of every year I can re-joy-ce. 

I have a friend who introduced me to this perspective by living it out in front of me. At the end of each year, there is no dwelling on or hiding from the hard days. There is no attention given to exalting the coming new year as a way to “get rid of” this one. Instead, we look back at all the good things that have happened and things we’ve accomplished and rejoice in that! How much sweeter is the peace and joy that accompany a posture of praise and thanksgiving. And this is the posture and perspective I want to have always.

I pray for you also, dear reader, that The Father’s Holy Spirit comforts and strengthens you with the joy of the Lord as He reminds you of all of His goodness and loving kindness towards you even in your darkest and hardest days.


Not My Burden

Photo by Rajdeep Mitra on Unsplash

I was nervous. Scared maybe? What would this do to them? They are all either going to be angry with me or they are going to be more sad and hurt than I can take. 

“I’m no better than anyone else.” – my thoughts took jabs at me. 

This is going to hurt them all so much. Will they even be able to forgive me? Worse yet, will they condemn me and tell me all the ways I’m wrong? 

I’ve put so much time and energy into this – so much thought and study and prayer and conversations with people wiser than me. By this point, I was more broken and despairing than I could have imagined possible. 

I had planned what I would say. 

What was it I was going to say again? My mind couldn’t focus. 

This wasn’t anxiety (I don’t think), but it was stress sure enough. I was willing to be told I was wrong, but then what do I do with everything I’ve learned and discovered the past few weeks? Am I going crazy? My mind raced with the “what if’s”, trying to figure out all the possible, only terrible ways this conversation could go. 

“I am such a terrible person”, I repeated only to myself because the shame I felt kept the sound tight inside. 

I mean who did I think I was leading any Bible study groups? I shouldn’t have ever tried to counsel, or comfort, or guide, or teach, or even pray for anyone – especially not my own siblings. 

“What a stupid, prideful, terrible person I’d been”, that inner voice repeated again. One thing I knew for sure: I deserved whatever rejection or lecture was about to come.

If only I could figure out how to keep everyone happy and also fix this whole situation. I mean, this is insane! Especially for me! I am a “good Christian”. 

Father, God, I don’t deserve grace or mercy. I have judged people in my own mind – you’ve seen it. And now here I am, no better. I only deserve to be rejected. But I don’t want people to be sad because of me. If I say these things, if I think about this path, I am going to make so many people so sad and angry and hurt, not the least of which are ones I hold most dear. How do I save everyone from all this hurt… and still address the truth of what I’m struggling with? I asked for counseling – but was told “You don’t need that.” 

I was feeling the weight of these past many years of trying, and being tirelessly “good”. I’d recently been told, through tears, that I had made it harder on someone else to live up to being “good” because someone else was comparing them to me. Ouch! 

No matter what I do, I can’t make anyone happy. I can’t save anyone. It’s not getting better and I’m not helping. And this sadness is so very heavy, I can’t escape it’s iron grip. I’ve been carrying this for so long, maybe if I tell them, they can at least help me, or tell me how to get better. I just wish it wasn’t going to make them sad or (even worse) disappointed with me. How can I do this to them? I can’t do this! Maybe they won’t call and I can just buck up again, a little more, one more time. I’m supposed to be tough. I surround myself with strong women and I am not one to give up. That’s what this will look like to them – giving up. This isn’t protecting them. This will disappoint and hurt them, and it will all be my fault.

I felt the gentle touch of the Father’s hand on my shoulder. I didn’t even have to see to know who it was. His gentle hand has the same tenderness as His voice I knew so well.

 “Why do you think you can make people happy, dear one? You don’t have that kind of power. This is why you have been struggling. This weight is not yours to carry. 

I have not rejected you. 

Trust me to deliver you and them, and to bring joy and peace. You are my precious daughter, whom I delight in. This is not what defines you. Your sin is a weight, yes, but carrying it or avoiding it is not what makes you lovely or loveable. I have made you both. 

I do love you. 

Remember, I knew all of this before you understood how to speak, and I still gave my Son to be the perfect sacrifice for you so that you would know: 

You are not the One who judges peoples’ righteousness, not even your own. 

You are not the One who saves people from trouble, not even yourself. 

When the world has many trials, there is One who overcomes all those troubles and carries you (and those you love) through them. 

I have created all these people you care about, just as I have created you. I will care for you (and them) through it all. 

There will be times when things will be hard, but I AM here. 

There will be times that you will have tears and questions, but I AM the answer, and I AM the One who will wipe away your tears. 

There will be times you will feel weak, but no longer will you be oppressed because I AM your Strength and Salvation. 

And this time, right now, 

I AM the words you need, 

the strength you lack, 

the wisdom you seek, 

and I AM with you. 

Do not put these burdens on yourself my dear child. Give them to me, little one. I have a much easier thing for you to carry. The burden of saving others from grief, this is not yours to carry. I AM able to carry all of this, and you. Climb into my arms, they are strong enough for you and all this weight. You don’t need to put this on yourself any longer, truly you never needed to, and now that you are aware of these things, you can simply give them to me. I AM going to help you remember to keep putting the boulders of people-pleasing actions into my hands. All you need to do is be the incredible daughter I created, and rest. 

Breathe out and let the weight go. Breathe in the life that I have created in you, and rest dear one.”

Kingdom Living

Five Small Kernels

A number of years ago I learned the story of the true first and second days of thanksgiving in the New World. They were actually not held in consecutive years because there was an extreme food shortage the second harvest year after the Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth. In fact, the Pilgrims nearly died that second year as each person had to be rationed a mere five kernels of corn per day. Things were certainly not how the Pilgrims had expected or planned. The very first day of thanksgiving they had quite a good harvest (thanks to Samoset and Tisquantum). The Pilgrims, along with Massasoit and about 50 braves enjoyed a great feast. This is the story that we all know from grade school. However, the part of the story I didn’t know until just a few years ago is the story of the following two years. 

The year that followed that first Thanksgiving, there was not enough food to go around because more settlers arrived from across the sea but they had brought no provisions like that first group of Pilgrims had. The second harvest year, instead of the abundant harvest they’d planned for, the Pilgrims were forced into grim rationing. When it came time to plant again, the Pilgrims needed a harvest at least twice the size of the first harvest. Not only that, but when it came time for the expected rains, there was a severe drought, the likes of which not even the native americans had ever seen. They once again faced dire circumstances, but they trusted God and prayed and finally came the most gentle rain for 14 days straight, exactly what their crops needed. 

The annual harvest feast almost didn’t happen for a second year in a row. However, The Father graciously provided once again exactly what they needed when they needed it and that harvest yielded more than anyone had expected. Once again they celebrated their abundant harvest with Massasoit and this time about 120 braves who brought with them all the meat for their great feast. The first course of their banquet however was only five kernels of corn on each plate, to serve as a reminder of those hard and scary times The Father had brought them through the season before, and they were thankful.

Each Thanksgiving feast since I learned this story, I have recounted it as my own reminder of the abundance that I have. This year especially though, this story hits me a little bit differently. This year, we have faced a global crisis the likes of which we ourselves have never experienced. This year, my family is spread out across the miles for a myriad of reasons: some are quarantined, some remodeling, some had to change plans at the very last minute, some are heroically working hard to save lives. In my case, I decided to take a thanksgiving meal to a few family members that had no plans for a “typical” Thanksgiving due to a couple of these life events. Perhaps that is what got me thinking about those five corn kernels in a new way. Or it could be this global pandemic that has me pondering anew. Maybe it is because I’ve been able to look back on my last thanksgiving, remembering my own sorrow and need that was so great then and seeing how The Father provided for me and brought me through it. Perhaps it has something to do with watching my own children go through difficult disappointments this year. I know that in spite of the figurative “shortage” in their lives (don’t worry we have plenty of food), that The Father will faithfully get us through this year also, even if we are hanging on by the most meager of “rations”.

Whatever the reasons–maybe all of those reasons–I am thinking back on those five kernels of corn with a new intentionality, and I find myself even more thankful this year. Yes, its been a very difficult year for so many of us. We may find ourselves only able to muster up five very small things for which to give thanks – all the more reason to be grateful. This is not the end, by any means. We are still here and still moving forward. Maybe some of us have found ourselves looking back on what looked like an impossible drought that seemed it would not end in time for us to survive, yet we find we have all that we need and in some cases maybe more than that and we are able to share with someone else. Yes, this has been a challenging year, but what a great time to be thankful for especially the seemingly small things in our lives. 

Maybe all we’re able to do is talk to our friends and family over the phone whereas last year we would see them every day. Let’s be thankful for such a small thing as that ability to talk to loved ones on the phone. Let’s be thankful these loved ones are still here.

Maybe we’re only able to gather with the ones closest in proximity to us. Let’s be thankful for such a small gathering where we are not alone and we have plenty to eat.

Maybe we’re not able to do the traditional things we’ve always done. Let’s be thankful for small traditions that are not gone simply because this year is different. Let’s be thankful for the small beginnings of new traditions born out of unexpected and unwanted circumstances.

Maybe our plans for this year have been overturned. Let’s be thankful for the small opportunities to make new plans for the future. Let’s be thankful that in spite of our own overturned plans, The Father still has plans for us, the likes of which are greater than our own, full of hope and goodness.

For me, this Thanksgiving looks a bit different than those of years passed, but after my own season of figurative shortage, I am setting five kernels before me and finding I have much to be thankful for:

  • People in my life that I deeply care about and who truly love and support me.
  • The freedom to move about safely and carefully being thoughtful of those around me.
  • Abundant food to share, even with a small few.
  • My overall health and safety along with the health and safety of my loved ones.
  • The Father’s faithful presence, forgiving grace, and love for me.

Even as I write my short list, choosing only five “kernels” I find is an impossible task. There is so much more I am thankful for. 

Dear reader, I know in the depths of my heart and out of my own experience that even if things are impossibly challenging right now, there are at least five very small things you can be grateful for. Those may be the only five things to give thanks for in the next days and weeks and months to come, but they are not insignificant. Hold on to them. Give thanks. The Father desires to give you (and all of His children) good things because He is a good Father. Look to Him and He will sustain you even in these mere five small thanks-givings until the day that you are able to add a sixth, then a seventh, an eighth, and so on until you too have more to be thankful for than these first five small things. And for those that find that you are looking back on a prior year with meager provisions but staring at a feast before you now, stop and give thanks for what The Father did to get you through that tough season. Then give to someone else who finds themselves in need now. You may be one of the five kernels The Father uses to get them through this difficult time.

Kingdom Living

Snuggle Weather

It seems strange to think that this is “snuggle weather” as I sit outside in eighty-degree, sunny weather surrounded by palm trees, but something about this season ushers in a desire to snuggle up with soft blankets, hugs, and hot cocoa (or a pumpkin spice latte perhaps). The days are getting shorter (does anyone else feel like they should be hibernating too?) and the lower humidity coupled with advertising images of fall leaves or snowy white holidays plays with my brain. Any time I walk into a store and smell nutmeg or cinnamon, or catch a whiff of a burning fire on a cool night stroll, I am transported away from the sticky, hot, ocean climate where I live, back to days spent jumping excitedly into mountainous piles of leaves or bundled up enjoying the snow-covered ground or warm and cozy at home falling asleep to the gentle glowing lights wrapped around the tree. 

Today’s thought about snuggling up at home was not inspired by these familiar sights or smells, rather, it was simply the lazily sinking afternoon sun and lower humidity that had me immediately ready to grab a blanket and find the comfiest part of the couch to curl up with a classic movie. Perhaps I am ready for the holiday season to be in full swing (confession: I have already watched 3 Christmas movies with my kids). Maybe it’s because I’m looking for some holiday cheer and some much-needed days off. Or possibly I’m missing some hugs and time with loved ones. Whatever the reasons, I was unexpectedly struck by this “snuggle weather” feeling today. 

As I contemplated where this feeling came from (especially given that I do not live in a cold climate), I recalled a verse I read recently from Deuteronomy 33:12 that mentions resting between the shoulders of The Father. “Between His shoulders” gave me such a great word- picture of what to me sounded like snuggles. Recalling that phrase, I am flooded with imagery of peace, comfort, security, and warmth. I just want to stay in this moment for a bit. 

I feel The Father’s arms wrap around me, snuggling me into His chest. Sitting quietly and still for a little while, we watch the lights rhythmically glow and admire the decorations all singing their “Joy to the World”. Some of my favorite smells waft into the room, and closing my eyes, I breathe them in deep. The Father and I both smile joyfully as we recall memories of this season through the years of my life. My heart is full. I am grateful for these sights, smells, and shared memories of joy sitting here in The Father’s embrace. I eagerly listen as The Father re-tells the story of Christ’s long awaited arrival. My heart celebrates His birth amidst a chaotic and terrifying world–it reminds me of my present waiting for His return. Though the cares of the world all around me are great, in this transported moment, I rest peacefully, wrapped securely “between His shoulders” in His loving arms. I remember The Father’s heart for me is this: comfort, peace, security, love, and joy. While the crazy world around me may bring none of those things, I know The Father does and will just as He always has before.