Monthly Archives: September 2022

God Is Near?

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One late afternoon a few weeks ago, my husband Ben and I walked out to the driveway as he prepared to take one of our boys to an activity. We were in the middle of our conversation when he exclaimed, “look at those clouds.” I turned around and was astounded by the big, fluffy white clouds hovering just above the rooftops of the houses around us. The sun highlighted their beauty. I felt as though they were close enough to touch. 

In that moment, I felt closer to God as well. Amazing how viewing the mountains or the ocean or a gorgeous sunrise can make us feel that God is near to us. Nature is not the only way we feel God’s presence obviously, but it is a common source of awe. The Psalmist was also inspired by God’s handiwork: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-4 & 9). When we sense God is close, we may be filled with peace, wonder, and admiration. We may feel small in comparison to God’s magnificence, but still feel like an essential part of the larger universe.

At other times though, we may feel distant from God. We may feel isolated, weary, and abandoned. We wonder if God hears our prayers or cares about us. The Psalmist understood those emotions as well. Bluntly, he asked, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). Nature provides the imagery for these times too. We may feel we are wandering in the dry, unrelenting heat of the desert or lost in the tangled maze of the wilderness. The people of God experienced the confusion and despair of the arid desert when they escaped slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 16). And Jesus knew what it meant to feel separated from God when he spent a challenging time in the wilderness. (Luke 4). 

When we start to believe that God is absent, we must remember that almost everyone has experienced similar episodes. We are not alone in our feelings of frustration and anger. It’s okay to reach out to others and ask for their support and encouragement through the times when our souls feel empty. And we must remember that God is not gone even though it may feel that way. God will help us find our way back. When I couldn’t feel God’s presence, one of my favorite verses has helped me: “This is what the Lord says— ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’” (Isaiah 43:16, 18-19). 

We must hold on in times of desperation and believe that God will restore us. That God is still in relationship with us when we feel darkness only. God has provided us with his creation in nature, which includes both beautiful and harsh environments. When we feel we are trudging through the desert or the wilderness, let us know that God is working on new ways to reach us so we can once again feel the nearness of our God.  

Waking Up

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Every weekday morning, Ben and I hit the snooze buttons on our respective phone alarms several times before we get up. We finally drag ourselves out of bed, but that’s where the similarities end. Within minutes of waking up, Ben is extremely chipper – singing and making jokes. I, on the other hand, drag for a while. I trudge to the kitchen to make the boys’ breakfasts and lunches. The kids, especially my ten-year-old son Alex, fall more into my camp. At times, Ben’s cheerfulness clashes with Alex’s unhappiness about getting up and going to school. `I’ve tried to explain to Ben that not all of us are like him. In fact, some of us don’t understand how he can be so happy that early in the morning. His response: “If you’re awake, you might as well be happy.” Much easier said than done.

I don’t think I’ll ever come close to the speed with which Ben goes from sleep to joviality. But I’ve learned to give myself some grace in the mornings because I’ve come to know who I am and what I can and cannot do in the early AM hours. I walk through the routine of preparing the kids for school, but I don’t make any real decisions until I’ve been awake for a while. I don’t immediately think about how many things I must do that day because I’ll feel overwhelmed. I watch the same morning show every day to learn the news and occupy my mind. I tell myself that it won’t be long until I feel more alive and then I can get on with my day. I used to become frustrated with myself in the mornings because I was groggy, allowed the world to crowd in too quickly, and let my anxiety run amuck. Now, I know that if I take my time to acclimate to the day, I’ll eventually be just fine.

I’m taking an online class in which we’re discussing effective listening from a Christian centered perspective. One of the main components to listening well to others is to know oneself. To be aware of the biases and world views we bring to the conversation that might get in the way of truly listening to another person’s experience. To know our weaknesses that might impede relationships but also to celebrate our positive traits that can enhance communication. When we know our anxieties and triggers, we can better listen to another’s problems without inserting ourselves into their narrative or making the conversation about ourselves when others are in need. When we believe in our strengths, we can feel confident in being with others as they struggle. In caring for ourselves, we can more effectively care for others. In knowing ourselves, we can know others more fully. 

Taking time and making space to understand and accept ourselves is important, essential even, to live authentically and be present with others in their struggles. Let us embrace the process of knowing ourselves so we can be awake in our lives and in the lives of others.

Grand Plans?

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I’m a little obsessed with journals and notebooks. As a writer, I’m practically unable to pass up a journal that calls my name, especially those with an inspiring image or quote. Recently, when I was cleaning and organizing our room and office, I found an inordinate number of journals that I’d collected. I had to check them to see if I’d written anything in them because I often only write in part of a notebook. I picked up a spiral notebook with “Grand Plans” printed on the front. I assumed that I must’ve written in this one and wondered what I had to say about my grand plans at some previous point in time. I opened the cover and gasped because the pages were completely blank. Not one word. Didn’t I have grand plans? 

The fact that I lacked a grand plan in writing bothered me. But I couldn’t just fill in the empty pages immediately because I couldn’t identify my own grand plans. Nothing like writer’s block when you’re thinking about the future. My problem stemmed from my initial perception of the word “grand.” I automatically went to the idea of grand as something big, far reaching, exciting, earth shattering, monumental, and magnificent. Something that would change things and make a huge difference to many people. Something that would bring fame and success. What could I ever do that qualified as grand according to that view?

So, being the word nerd that I am, I followed the course I often take –  I looked up the word grand in desperate hope that another definition would suffice. And I found this alternate meaning of grand: “having more importance than othersForemost” (merriam-webster.com). I liked this different take on the concept. Instead of an elaborate, over-the-top scheme, maybe a grand plan can be relatively simple. When I thought of grand in this way, my perspective changed. I can easily think of plans that are more important to me than other plans. My grand plans revolve around my family – taking care of them, raising my kids to become competent adults, loving them boundlessly, and always having their backs. My grand plans include serving God by helping my church and community. As for my writing, I would love for my future to include wide readership and publication, but even if those dreams don’t come true, it is important that I write for myself and any others who might find encouragement from my work.  

My grand plans involve small, everyday actions that are consistent, routine, and reliable. Others may think these plans small and insignificant. But when I consider grand plans in terms of what is most important to me, it isn’t hard to figure out what is foremost in my life. Sometimes, we get stuck believing that our goals are not adequate or worthy if they aren’t large and impressive. We may not feel we are enough or don’t measure up to others because our plans are not considered fabulous by society. If we stay true to ourselves and those we love, our plans may be quiet and steadfast but grand, nonetheless. We shouldn’t feel daunted because our plans don’t qualify as grand by the world’s standards. We can be content that our plans involving our families and communities are special, important, and truly grand.  

Facing the Fear

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I’ve always relished the beginning of the school year, even as an adult. I feel like it provides a new start similar to the New Year. This year, in particular, as my daughter went to college, I entered the school year with an even stronger feeling that a new chapter would emerge. I decided to lean into the idea that this year would bring fresh opportunities, especially with respect to my boys. It didn’t take long for two new proposals to crop up. One in the realm of church popped into my head during a meeting, and the other one came from school via a teacher’s request three weeks in. My first reaction to both was “that was fast.” And my second was “oh-no.”

Immediately, I felt resistance. I hadn’t expected either of the opportunities; both truly came out of the blue. And so, I wasn’t sure I wanted to accept the options. What would they entail? Would I be too busy if I took on the duties? I needed to pray about the prospects before I moved forward. As is my habit, I started writing in my prayer journal, which is a stream of consciousness exercise for me. I write what’s on my heart and mind without filtering so that I can truly express my feelings to God. This process also often reveals what I’m truly worried about. 

That is exactly what happened in this instance. I wrote about serving the church in a new capacity and said, “I worry that I won’t be good at it.” With respect to volunteering in a new role at school, I wrote “But I admit I am scared to do it. Can I do this right?” My concerns boiled down to fear. Fear that I wouldn’t measure up if I stepped outside of my comfort zone. That I would fall flat on my face. That I would embarrass my kids if I failed. That other people would complain about me behind my back. 

Once I identified fear as the root of my reluctance, I felt more at ease. I’m intimately familiar with fear and anxiety. I don’t like to fail, which makes me risk adverse. For those acquainted with the Enneagram personality types, I am a textbook Six who seeks safety and security and anticipates the worst possible outcomes. So, when I saw my concerns in black and white and realized my worries were based on fear, I thought, of course. And yet, even though I often default to fear, I needed to go through the process of prayer and analysis to understand why I felt hesitant. 

I’ve decided to pursue both new opportunities. I didn’t see them coming, but I’m grateful for them. While my fears will not disappear completely, I’ve learned that for me, fear can hold me back unnecessarily from exciting pursuits if I allow it. I recognize that being open to the possibilities without letting fear overwhelm me will be a lifelong struggle for me, but one well worth fighting.