The daunting task of writing a timeline of the previous year lay before me. Turning to look back at the deep grief did not invite me to this assignment. I wasn’t sure I wanted to record and in turn relive all those negative moments.
Curling up on my couch, I wrapped my self in my fluffy blanket, relishing in the comfort of its weight. A rich cup of black coffee grew cold on the table next to me, I ignored the inviting aroma, determined to face this chore. My chest tightened with anxiety as I did not want to go back to the dark days.
In my timeline, I recorded the “bad” events in grey and the rest popped on the page in the bright happy colors I prefer. I noticed moments of joy sprinkled among the pain. There lies the tension, life is not good or bad it is a combination of both.
I discovered I want to run from the pain in my life. In the push and pull of life, I’d rather stay on the fun side. I want to ignore the ugly, respond with a quick quip of “it’s all good”, and move on and up.
BUT it is not all good. Recognizing this brings healing to our hurting souls. Life is a tapestry of blessings and difficulties, woven together to re-present our story. The combination of the “good” and the “bad” defines us.
King David captured this in Psalm 30:5b “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (NLT) Reading this again today, I recognized the beauty of the cyclical nature of life this represents. Our life is a long series of days and nights, but also the reoccurring pattern of weeping and joy. As much as we are to live joyfully, we need time for lament as well.
Hidden within the definition of tension is the promise this joy and lament cycle brings to us. Tension, the state of being stretched tight by an outside force, such as mental and emotional strain, causes us to stretch. As we stretch, we expand our understanding of what it means to be human. Without struggle I lack empathy, without pain I lack growth, without lament I lack release, and without joy I lack gratitude.
During my darkest days, I witnessed my daughter’s joy as she found her wedding dress. Although, I purposed to be in the moment, I couldn’t fully feel the joy I hoped to share with her. As I reviewed my timeline, I returned to the memory of that moment with her. Envisioning her once again in her elegant gown, her face shining with joy as she realized she found the one she wanted. Reflecting on it again, tears of joy streamed down my face as I anticipated seeing her on her wedding day. This time I fully felt the beauty of this once in-a-lifetime moment, radiating out in the darkness that surrounded it.
I encourage you to take a moment today to honestly reflect on your feelings. Lament the bad and celebrate good, allowing the tension between them to strengthen you.
I opened the conversation as usual, “What would you like to discuss?”
Suddenly animated, the young woman across from me, hit the table with her fist and exclaimed “why are some people at church so angry all the time?”
“What do you mean?”
“You can’t disagree about anything without getting a lecture back.”
“What is your reaction to that?”
“I’ve stopped talking to them and I may even stop going to church to avoid it.”
Sadly, I’m hearing this question over and over.
I’ve tried to look at this topic from all sides, remembering that the end goal of our journey here is to build the Kingdom of God. Our society has developed an either/or culture. In general, it plays out as either you are with me, or you are against me.
With the pandemic we became more isolated, siloed with like minded people. We sought out information that we agreed with and interacted with only those sources, especially on social media. Once we reunited with others, many of us were set in a cultural truth we believed. In addition if you disagreed with me you were simply wrong.
To many those who disagreed were perceived as a threat to their way of life. This was true on both sides of each debate. So much so that their “either/or” became paramount in their mind and needed to be protected.
We became so entrenched in the “either/or” we have forgotten how to live in the AND. What does that mean? You are welcome at my church AND can disagree with me. Jesus is the center of our unity. Yes, the fruit of our lives reflects our relationship with Him. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit pours out of us with His fruit of love, joy, peace, patients, self-control, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and goodness.
As young people inundated with information, you are continually making choices of right and wrong. Discussing and debating issues allows us to develop our ideas of the truth but it also needs to be in a safe environment.
We each need to answer Jesus’ question of Mark 8:29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.” This is the foundation of our faith. However, even if you don’t agree with Peter, as I do, you can still be my friend if you accept me for who I am. A believer of Jesus and a minister of the faith.
To my older friends, on current events and cultural issues, I ask these questions:
What do you value?
What causes do you care about?
Where do you want to grow?
How does that line up with Jesus’ teachings?
I follow up with their belief statements with:
Where did you hear that?
Why do you believe that?
In the process of examining our own answers to these questions we develop the ability to think for ourselves. This practice of critical thinking prevents us from the sway of the next social media influencer that comes along. The process of dialoguing develops relationships that grow with grace. It allows the participants to grow in understanding with unconditional love. It invites in, instead of pushing out.
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I like change but also, I like things to stay the same. I get bored in the monotony of the same activities, day in and day out, but there is also comfort in the familiar. Transitioning into new seasons can reveal an uneasiness as we approach the unknown.
Now it is your chance, what fears are you facing today? From the silly to the serious, write them down. We’re friends now, so I can trust you with a deep-down secret. Have I mentioned I loathe slugs? The only thing worse than the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz would be flying slugs. I mean can you imagine? I shudder as I write these words, but really, I can spend my whole life ignoring this fear unless it keeps me from the activities I love. This fear does not keep me from gardening or hiking in the woods. Fears like that, although humorous, are not the ones we are addressing.
Checking items off our bucket list takes a little step of courage. Adventurous fun means taking a brave step that helps us feel alive. Recently, my husband and I took a trip to the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore along the lower coast of Lake Superior. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go.
Our reservations for a sea kayak tour of the coast were postponed twice due to high surf. This didn’t calm my apprehension. I wasn’t sure to pray for cancellation or calm waters.
After the guides gave a detailed safety lesson, in which they detailed EVERY POSSIBLE THING THAT COULD GO WRONG, we boarded the boat for our excursion. However, they did not mention flying slugs. Wide eyed, I donned my splash skirt and life vest waiting for our turn to board our tandem sea kayaks.
Once on the lake, it took me a bit to get used to the wobble when Dave adjusted his position. My trust grew with each paddle stroke as we found the rhythm of working together. The wonders of this uniquely beautiful rock formation loomed before us. Close enough to touch, we were awed by the colors rippling through the cliffs. The beauty and exhilaration of Lake Superior touched a deep part of my soul. A small brave step turned into a trip of a lifetime.
I didn’t have to face that fear but I’m glad I did. However, there are fears we each need to address. My ongoing struggle rests in the roots of people pleasing. Implanted in me as a child, I must keep a watchful eye out for it as I move in the direction Jesus sends me. If I am not on guard, one negative comment can send me reeling. Not the best attribute for someone who speaks publicly. Therefore, my step of bravery is saying “yes” to situations that bring others attention to me. My goal is to redirect that focus onto Jesus, disregarding irrelevant criticism.
What keeps you from conquering your fears? Do you possess the gifts and talents required for that adventure? Are you brave enough to invest in yourself to gain the knowledge you need to fulfill that desire? Now that is what I call fun!
Pretend we are sitting across a table from one another. It is a safe conversation, what would you share that you’ve never spoken before?
Our courage fortifies us to move forward into the full life Jesus promised. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, we remember to be strong IN the Lord, (Ephesians 6:10). Yes, that allusive abundant life belongs to each of us. We just need to know how to embrace it in every stage of life.
Father thank you that you impart courage to us when we need it. We lay our fears at your feet, declaring they will not hinder us anymore. We stand in the waiting for your instructions. Holy Spirit nudge us in the direction You want us to go. We trust you to guide us and to strengthen us as we move forward. In Jesus Name Amen
If you need to go deeper into this subject, I highly recommend Annie F. Downs books Let’s All Be Brave and 100 Days of Brave. They will change your life if you struggle with courage.
On a steamy July evening, we sat on the porch reflecting on her faith journey. She had spent the last ten weeks away from home for the first time. At twenty-one, she tasted independent living, although she entered it with anxiety and she’s now leaving with a newfound confidence.
“I’m thinking of looking for a new church home, is that ok?”
Certainly, that is ok.
The question to answer is why?
This was the church she grew up in, her family still attends there. She, however, no longer felt like part of that community.
You may relate with her concern but feel conflicted over this move. Especially if you experienced a healthy church life as a child, you may struggle with feeling disloyal. Your loyalty lies with Jesus first and your church family second. Pray and ask Him to show you whether you need to stay or go.
The church or Ekklesia, is the gathering of people who share in their belief of Jesus Christ. This group of people are meant to be family, sharing in worship, serving one another, and building the Kingdom of God. It is to be a place where the participants learn and grow to be more like Jesus.
Every church is flawed with imperfections of one kind or another. This is part of the human condition, so if you are leaving to find the perfect church, you aren’t going to find it. But leaving your childhood church, to see what else is out there, may help your faith move to the next level. As young adults, especially Gen Zers, you are looking for autonomy, for a place in which you will be treated as an adult.
Here are questions to ask yourself as you explore new congregations:
- Can you authentically serve in your current church?
- Does this church draw you closer to Jesus? Do you reflect Jesus to others because of attending there?
- Are you building community or see the potential to build community – especially an intergenerational community?
- Are you recognized as an adult, ready to commit to this community?
We are to avoid cherry picking, taking what we need, to meet our own needs. We need the love and support of other people to continue to pursue Jesus. True, as a young adult, you are going through a lot of changes, but you are also setting habits that will last a lifetime. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, we are to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” We each need a place to learn to live vulnerably in community.
As summer wains, transition looms on the horizon. Back to school season empties our nests once again, opening the gates to a surge of emotions we may be unprepared for.
Believe it or not, life does not end when our children reach adulthood.
Some days, it feels that way. Our feelings are a part of what makes us human; I am not a robot. Emotions define us as a species, and they are an amazing gift. When life is good, happiness fills every moment. But when it is not, it can be hard to overcome these unwanted feelings. Emotions reflect how we feel, but they aren’t always anchored in reality. They can conflict with one another, but that doesn't mean they can’t or shouldn’t both exist at the same time.
For example: I am happy that my children are succeeding, AND I am sad that they are far away. I’m thrilled they are happy, AND I still miss them.
But the real question is how do we deal with our reactions as we age and enter this new season?
Symptoms of empty nest syndrome include sadness, depression, loss of purpose, and loneliness. It's not a clinical diagnosis. But those are common traits among empty nesters in this transition. It gives us a reason—but not an excuse—to continue living this way. I felt it deeper than I thought I would. My heart goes out to you as you negotiate these feelings.
I’m so glad this is only a temporary time for each of us. Here is a strategy I am finding helpful as I move through this season myself.
Read the following Scripture, meditate on the gift given to us in the verse. It is powerful. Let it empower you to move one step closer toward the woman God sees in you.
Proverbs 31:21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. (NIV)
This verse depicts the emotional battle won by our Proverbs 31 friend. Fearless, she knows her loved ones are protected against the dangers of this world. The stark contrast between the white snow and the scarlet clothing reminds us to thrive not just survive. Certainly, we can see this for our physical needs, but I believe it also represents our emotional and spiritual needs as well.
Scarlet cloth represented luxury, abundantly providing for all in her family. Jesus also wore a scarlet robe on the way to the cross. He paid the full price for all our needs including our emotions. Our goal is to take all our emotions and place them at the feet of Jesus. He reminds us that His burden is light. He is calling us, the weary, to Him. He is always to help us into the abundant life in which we will flourish.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that even in emotional transitional seasons, you can make us new. In Ephesians 4:23-24 it says, “Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” Yes, let Your Holy Spirit reawaken us to our designated design. Invigorate us to a fresh new life. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.
She staired into her steaming cup of tea, tension creased her forehead. A recent college graduate, she haltingly expressed her concern.
“I love my mom but…”
“But she’s driving me crazy. She is constantly texting, calling, or dropping by. I feel guilty saying this, but she is so clingy!”
The words rushed out; a mix of emotions washed over her face. This wasn’t the first young person to share this complaint, so let’s dive in why is she so clingy?
Launching children into adulthood is a bittersweet event for most parents. If unprepared the parent can get lost in navigating the new landscape. As you mature into your new life of responsibility and independence, mom may not know how to respond.
Dear young friend, like you, your mom is in transition from one phase of life to the next. Her role until now, has been to get you to adulthood. From the day of your birth, her responsibility was to raise you to be an independent adult. This is a bittersweet time for your mom.
True confession, I’ve been tempted to be the clingy mom. I’ve said manipulative, guilt induced things which I later apologized for. Not be most stellar moment. I didn’t expect their launch into adulthood would leave me feeling discarded and old.
The negative emotions surprised me—I had higher expectations of myself. What should have been an exuberant time of my husband and I planning and pursuing our previously set-aside dreams became a dissatisfying lull I learned the Mayo Clinic identifies as Empty Nest Syndrome.
Which means the dynamic is prevalent enough to warrant a name. But since it’s not a clinical diagnosis, there’s not an exact or easy cure.
Your mom is excited for the new life you’ve found. She misses you, but she’s also happy for them. You worked hard to achieve all your accomplishments. Living on the edge of new adventures we call adulthood you are ready to go and she’s wondering what happened!
Remember your mom is more than your mom, she’s a person. She may be experiencing emotions she’s never felt before. As you traverse this new territory, respectfully address your concerns. Think of ways you can support her autonomy without threatening your own independence.
Some moms need time to adjust, and others may never change but they will always be your parent. Scripture reminds us to honor our mother and father, my prayer is you will develop a stronger relationship with your mom that lets you easily honor her.
I love the children’s book The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. Originally published in 1930, its message still speaks to us today. Small in stature, I identify with Little Blue Engine. Her determination moved her over the mountain. This age-old story, undergird our own journey by reminding us that our attitude matter. I keep a copy of this book on my desk to remind me of this important truth in furthering my own dreams.
Reflected in Biblical heroes like David, we see the greater advantage of God in our lives. We can because God is. David declared the enormity of God to a giant standing before him (David and Goliath 1 Samuel 17). David defeated Goliath through his trust in God. Living our true selves, reliant on God, glorifies God to all who are in our lives.
I still believe I can do whatever I set my mind to do. I’m not going to go out and run a marathon. I could however, if I trained. Many women my age accomplish this goal, but I don’t want to do that. However, it is a great metaphor for life at this age. It may take longer to do some things but if we set our mind to it, we can. For most of us we may have less energy, but we’ve grown in knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
Now is the time to tap into that knowledge and wisdom Jesus provides for us. Look at the benefit of living a Christ filled life stated in 1 Corinthians 1:30 “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” Jesus is the source of all wisdom; we need to listen to the part of our spirit aligned with the Holy Spirit.
Knowledge comes from learning God’s will for our lives. The abbreviated version of this is that He wants us to live as His child. That plays out differently for each of us but it is the cornerstone of the knowledge of understanding our identity. Where it becomes more difficult is discerning when to apply that knowledge in each situation with wisdom.
Paul wrote this for us and it is my prayer for you:
“So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.” Colossians 1:9-12 (NLT)
How we apply this understanding takes time a practice. You can learn more by studying Paul's words in Colossians 1. In our mid-month challenge video we will explore this further, sign up here so you don'e miss out.
Is it okay that I question things I’ve been taught about my faith?
The short answer is yes.
Does that surprise you? I think we get confused between theology and faith; a tension between the two brings moments of confusion causing us to seek clarity.
Theology is defined as the study of God and religion. Theo means God and ology means study of, it is a pretty straightforward understanding of the word. As believers we seek knowledge to better understand who God is and how to build a relationship with Him. That knowledge, appropriately applied, develops our wisdom as to how to properly live what we know.
Scripture is clear that we are to seek after wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3 assures us that the knowledge and wisdom is in Jesus, we just have to look for it. “2 That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; 3 In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Some of theinformation presented to us can be misunderstood or misrepresented. This is why we test and search out the truth.
Faith, although related, is based on belief in God, spiritual comprehension instead of proof. As it says in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith, pistis in the Greek, means a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is God.
Theology is knowledge based while faith is belief based. When we question theology, we are not to throw away faith. On the contrary, when we investigate, we are simply answering the why we believe to grow our faith.
As imperfect beings, we recognize we don’t know it all and we continue to seek wisdom and knowledge through our relationship with Jesus Christ. This builds a better understanding of who He is and who we are to become. Find a trusted friend and investigate these questions together. Accurately applying Scripture, while seeking Jesus, will help you sort out what He has for you.
Ask this Mom is a monthly post that investigates the questions that matter to you.
On a cool summer morning, hinting at the approaching fall, we gathered. Each of us recognized this was a special moment, identifying it as a time worth celebrating. No speeches or toasts were given, just plenty of stories and laughter shared. We celebrated the intimacy of our family bond nurtured over a lifetime of experiences.
It started as a getaway weekend to my sister’s summer home. A quiet place on a river, a perfect escape destination from the stress of life. Within a few days of our departure, we discovered two of my other sisters were camping nearby. Texts flew back and forth as we realized our fifth sister also planned to be in the area. Expectations turned to excitement as we saw an impromptu party become a reality. For the first time all five sisters, with their five husbands, gathered without our children.
An extraordinary moment to treasure, the day remains a cherished snapshot in my mind. A simple backyard barbeque full of love and laughter ensued. Admiring the circle of family and friends, I quietly thanked God not just for them but for the legacy of my mom and dad. Their purposeful pursuit of family identity and unity permeated our time together. Essence of each of them peppered our conversation.
My parents raised five independent women during a tumultuous time in our history. However, their gifts to us remain timeless, a beautiful testimony to those who followed. Although far from perfect, they invited us into an adulthood centered on Jesus and His church with the freedom to choose our own path. Here are four intentional steps you can take, to form a similar legacy.
1. Make encouragement part of your daily lives.
No matter the age, recognizing both the gifts and struggles of the individual emboldens them to move forward in the path God set out for them. Encourage the good choices and coach them through the failures, reminding them that both develop us into our God designed selves.
2. Declare your family identity. I’m not sure when my dad started calling us “the good guys”, but it was a continual title used throughout my life. This is how my parents saw us and this is how we behaved. He set an expectation, through this positive declaration, of our character. When others urged us to step outside our family beliefs, that identity curbed the temptation.
Find a simple phrase that fits your family to undergird your identity. Make it positive and empowering.
3. Make unconditional love the expectation of your household. We were not measured by our achievements but loved because we were theirs. So much of our society rates our worth on what we do. However, a grace filled home counters that pressure, making it a safe place for the whole family.
Unconditional love extended into our poor choices as well. Living out the consequences of those choices impacted each of us as we grew and learned to navigate this world. No matter our choices, home remained a safe place.
4. Ask for wisdom before you act.
Even with all this in place, not all our choices lined up with the beliefs of our parents. Measuring the moment to determine their response took not only grace but wisdom. My sister moving to New York City challenged my parent’s peace, but it proved to be the correct choice.
Taking a moment to examine our own motivations before we comment or correct, helps direct a positive outcome. Measure our words and remember sometimes it is best to say nothing at all.
5. Daily choose gratitude. Living on a salesman’s wages with five daughters held challenges beyond our understanding. Each night at supper, we declared God is good and God is great. Thanking God for what we had permeated our home. Comparisons to friend’s material possessions were quickly squelched.
Thankfulness, demonstrated daily, trickles down to our children. Make a point to invite your children into sharing their gratitude.
Intertwined within our celebration, and our lives now, dwells the promise of Jeremiah 31:13 “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” Building a lasting impact in your family through subtle daily choices will ensure joyful family gatherings even after you are gone.