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Guided steps

In anticipation of a hike we’re leading in a couple weeks for Sienna and her classmates, our family took a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day hike up Black Mountain.  This mountain is right near our home and the school, but we’ve never hiked it!  Monday was the day.  The teachers recommended we take the Nighthawk Trail up to the summit, which is about 2 miles each day.  Easy peasy, we thought.  We brought Claira along and she was excited to get out of the house and stretch her legs!

Well, this route turned out to be steep and rocky!  The first pitch of the trail was particularly steep and the kids expressed their dismay.   Claira bounded up the path like a little Billy goat!  She provided some comic relief and joy as the day grew hotter and the rocky trail grew tedious.  Sienna wanted to turn around after less than a mile.  “Come on, you can do it!” I encouraged, “Think how proud you’ll be when you reach the top!”  We talked about perseverance as a virtue and value. 

At one point, she tried to call my bluff and retreated down the hill as the rest of us kept climbing.  Teo was torn and started to slow down.  “Mom, she’s really not turning around!” he called to me.  Fortunately, a sweet golden retriever named Ninja and his owner stopped to allow Claira and Ninja to greet one another.  Dennis petted Ninja (dogs and babies love this guy!) for several minutes, giving Sienna and Mateo the opportunity to slowly catch up to us. 

What a great reminder not to worry and try to micro-manage a family outing!  Everything works out when you let people have their authentic experience and express themselves.

We made it to the top and the attitudes of our family of hikers improved tremendously!  We took pictures and enjoyed the amazing view on a beautiful January day.  As we retraced our steps down the mountain, we stopped at another lookout spot where Claira stood on a rock and surveyed the landscape.  We laughed as we noted that she looked like Simba on Pride Rock and roared, like in the closing scenes of The Lion King.  So silly!

Going downhill in steep, rocky terrain actually requires more concentration than going uphill.  Especially if, like Sienna and me, you opt to wear Keds and worn running shoes, respectfully.  The guys were much more surefooted with their hiking boots.  We all slid a few times, which gives you such a burst of adrenaline!  I focused on keeping my balance and making confident steps and prayed: Holy Spirit, please guide my steps.  I knew there was a Bible verse about the Lord directing our steps, but didn’t know the specific reference. 

During my run yesterday afternoon, it was incredibly windy!  A few times I had to go off the paved pathway to go around other pedestrians and there was debris blowing in my face.  The same prayer popped into my mind: Holy Spirit, please guide my steps.  This simple mantra brought peace to my heart and calmed my mind. 

Today I opened a daily devotional book and turned to January 20th.  The Bible verse quoted was from Psalm 37, verse 23: The steps of a man are directed and established of the Lord, when he delights in his way… So, now I know.

Allowing God to guide my steps is such a reassuring place to live, both in the moments of potential danger and in the everyday moments of life.

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When the empty isn’t empty

Lying in bed last night, I could feel my mind turning on as I turned out the light.  Fortunately, I’d been practicing all my acceptance skills during the day and felt at peace.  A few hours ago, my mind tried to hook me with stories about whether or not I’d sleep well that night.  I lovingly replied (yes, out loud) “Thanks, Mind.  That’s an interesting story that you’ve told me repeatedly.  I don’t need to hear it again.”

Acceptance doesn’t stop the unrelenting mind, but it does put it in its proper place. 

Last night, I prayed and rested in God’s embrace. When anxious thoughts popped up, I let them be and refocused on breathing.  Repeatedly running “your grace is sufficient for me” through my mind also helped quiet my body and spirit. 

At one point, Dennis’s breathing sounded really loud.  Initially, this was annoying and I elbowed him once to turn over.  Then, a calming and accepting idea occurred to me and I prayed: “Thank you, God that Dennis is here breathing beside me.” 

It didn’t stop the noise, but it sure changed my experience of it.

Reflecting back, I see how frequently I’ve used the idea of “acceptance” in a flippant way, as a means to regain my sense of control over my feelings.  True acceptance is literally “taking what is given”. Sometimes feelings are enjoyable and sometimes they’re not.  Accepting means I don’t have to spend time and energy striving to fix or alter my thoughts and feelings. 

This morning, I was reminded of a quote from Tish Harrison Warren that I’ve found so meaningful over the years: “The vulnerable places where I find fear are the very places that Jesus is willing to enter and fill until there is only room for love. The stillness I am seeking leaves space in me to be filled by Jesus. The empty isn’t empty if God enters it.”

Previously, the part about stillness leaving space to be filled by Jesus caught my attention most poignantly.  Today though, my heart responded to: The empty isn’t empty if God enters it. 

God entered my heart and mind during moments of anxiety last night.  He filled the space where fear wanted to reside.  These parts of our lives that feel most vulnerable and scary are the very ones that the triune God uses to pull us closer to him. 

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Just Be Held.

This week! Goodness gracious.

Getting back into work and school on Monday, which was also Mateo’s 10th Birthday started off the week on a high. We’d had a wonderful couple weeks of celebration for Christmas and New Years, so we kept the party going to start the week. But, what comes up must come down, right?

Since then, my thoughts and feelings have been up and down. I’ve felt joy and exhilaration and accomplishment and boredom and anxiety and exhaustion, to name a few. The irony of having just posted about acceptance, and then having my struggle switch flip as I fought to regain a sense of contentment, is not lost on me.

Oh, but God is good. He has been lovingly holding me in his embrace as I struggle and try to take control, give it back, take it again, give it back…

Music has a way of sidestepping my analytical mind and touching my heart. Many of the tender moments of surrender I’ve experienced over the years were triggered by just the right song when I needed it most. Several months ago I really connected with a Casting Crowns song on the radio: Just Be Held. These lyrics touched me most deeply:

Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on

And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held

It is so comforting to remind myself to rest in the embrace of God and let him hold me. Control is something I struggle with, obviously. Surrender is the opposite and it’s the path to freedom and true rest. Henri Nouwen wrote, “The Spirit of love says: Don’t be afraid to let go of your need to control your own life. Let me fulfill the true desire of your heart.” Here and Now, pg. 67.

This photo of Sienna has been on my computer screensaver all week. I love gazing at it. Her big brown eyes and sweet hands around her face capture vulnerability and trust. Her childlike dependence is what I’m leaning into as I rest in my utter dependence on Christ.

Lord, please help stop striving to control my thoughts and feelings and just be held.

My Awakening, The Happiness Trap

An Open Heart for the New Year

This year, I intentionally did not set any goals or resolutions.  I’ve learned that striving to achieve measurable outcomes leads me down a path toward self-reliance. It’s hard to rest in God and be present in the moment when I am focused on all the tasks I need to accomplish.  

Heading into the office for the first time in a couple weeks, I naturally felt a bit down. We had such a delightfully cozy Christmas, fun New Year, and joyous celebration of the kids’ birthdays (Teo’s will continue this evening!) that coming into work couldn’t match the feeling of celebration and enthusiasm.  Nor should it.  The highs in life feel special because they are different from everyday life.  We can’t have the highs without the lows (or the everydayness).

Preparing for the New Year, I’ve been praying a lot about acceptance and not trying to control my emotions.  The image in this post is a great example of what acceptance looks like!  It’s really just letting thoughts and feelings come and go without trying to fix or change them. 

Today I realized, when I don’t strive to be in control of my emotions and feel “happy” through thinking only “positive” thoughts, it can lead to a sense of hopelessness and discontent.  But, there is a more pure joy and hopefulness that comes from resting in God and trusting his promises.  When my focus is on Christ and the freedom he has won for us, my heart is open and able to delight in whatever is happening in the given moment. 

I received faith themed planner stickers as a Christmas gift. I’ve avoided planner stickers as they started to become popular because I don’t use a traditional planner.  But, these stickers are so fun and exactly my style!  They work wonderfully in my bullet journal and added some whimsy to my otherwise boring list of “to dos”.  Looking at them now, they simply state some of the many Biblical promises we can rely upon in daily life:

“He has plans for me”

“Ask and it will be given to you”

“Seek and you will find”

“Knock at the door will be opened to you”

“Hope anchors the soul”

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for…”

“I can do all things through Him that strengthens me”

“The Lord bless you and keep you”

In 2021, my prayer is that God helps me stay rooted in Him and living more from my heart than from my head.  I want to feel more deeply, which means that I’ll experience both the highs and lows.  Acceptance feels most safe when I remember that God is utterly trustworthy and loves me beyond comprehension.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3: 5-6)