start to finish

I start so many things.  Projects, goals, diets, plans.  Right now there's 15 rows of a crocheted afghan sitting in a bag somewhere still attached to the skeins of yarn, and I once took a year to back a quilt I made.  Then there's the piano piece I can only play the first 5 measures of due to lack of practice, and the growing pile of books I keep meaning to list on Amazon.

So.  Much.  Starting.

Occasionally I will follow an item completely through to the end, especially if chocolate is involved. But more often than not, along the way to those good intentions I'll hit a snag - not enough time, energy or resources - and let that discourage me from continuing.  I take the obstacle as proof I should stop rather than as motivation to proceed.

I admire and respect those who don't let circumstances or unexpected twists and turns in their life get in the way or keep them from what God has shown them or told them to do. So many have faced unthinkable adversity and yet still accomplished great things no matter what interrupted their plans.

They started, they finished.  They followed through.

I've found it's easy to start, but the real test of my character well do I finish?

How do I react to obstacles or discouragement that randomly appear in the pursuit of where He's called me to go, who He's called me to be?  The answer to that question reveals what I'm made of. Anyone can stumble back in defeat, throw in the towel, give up the dream.  That's easy.  But sticking with the plan?  Continuing against all reason?  Believing that God will finish what He started?  That's where I'm tested.

It isn't in the giving up but rather in the keeping going that shows the strength of my faith.

It's there that I have a choice- to push through because I trust Him, or retreat in defeat because it all seems too difficult.

We can't succumb to an unwanted pebble in the path and take it to mean we shouldn't be walking there.  Instead, we must incorporate and welcome that uncomfortable interruption and make it part of our story, recognizing it for what it is; a perfectly placed piece of the puzzle.

So go ahead and start.  Along the way, don't let the obstacles fool you; they are there for your good. And then make sure you finish.

Finish well.

knowing Him

For a while, I've been feeling like there has been something missing from my faith; something sending me a little off-course.

Kind of like I am one ingredient short of a full recipe.

It took some time, but I realized the missing element is worshiping God simply for who He is, not for what He can do for me.  I need to slow down and speak to Him words of adoration, dwell in His presence, give Him praise without requests.  I need to love Him first and best so that He can love others well through me.

In this season I have simplified my prayers to God, drawing near to the heart of who He is so that He will draw near to me as He promised.  I can recite more Scripture from memory than I thought, and recently I was speaking one of my favorite passages out loud to myself in the car and taking comfort from it -

"Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long." Psalm 25:4-5

These verses don't ask for anything except to be closer to God.  They are not saying, "God, make my life better with the things I think I need.  Please fix this person.  Please resolve this situation.  Please...please...please....."

Instead, it's "Show me your ways, teach me your paths..."

Guide me.

Teach me.

And my hope will be in you all day long.

As I learn to love Him more completely, may His love be made complete in me, spilling out freely to those whose lives I interact with.

riding the rails

It would be my first time traveling to New York City alone, so I studied the train schedule, route and map of stops well ahead of time.  I noticed on the transit website that Seacaucus, New Jersey, looked like a major hub where the surrounding area trains all bottlenecked through and then lunged forth on separate routes to various places in the New York state vicinity.  I panicked a little.  Wanting to get on one train in the morning and be able to get off the same one in New York City was key for me to be relaxed about this whole venture. I called the transit office to be sure my train would simply sail through the Seacaucus maze with me still on it, all the while heading to my final destination of Penn Station.  She assured me it would.

I couldn't have been more relieved.

The trip was uneventful, and by the time I'd gotten myself to Manhattan via rail and hailed a taxi to my conference's hotel, this country girl felt mighty proud of herself to have navigated her way through mass transit.

As the day drew to a close, I knew I had just enough time to haul it back to the train station and find the right one to take me back through the Secaucus tangled web and then on home.  I felt like I knew where I was going now, which helped my comfort level for the return trip. Little did I know it would also help others.

I didn't have to wait long until the 4:35 bound for my home station was boarding.  I got on and as I settled into my seat near one of the doors, two tall, blonde teenage girls stepped into the car looking hesitant.  I could tell their eyes were searching for someone else's to land on, so when they looked at me, I met their gaze.

"Is this train going to Seacaucus?" one of them asked nervously. I could hear the panic in her voice. "We need to be on that train; is this the right one?"

Ah, Secaucus. I knew it well.  Well enough to know that this train was going to stop there, but I didn't have to get off.  Yay, me.

"Yep!" I said confidently.  "This is the one. You're on the right train."  The relief on their young faces was easy to see; they sank into seats across the aisle and let out a happy sigh.

Peronally, I was amazed I knew the answer to their question after only one morning on the rails.

"Thank you so much," the one girl said to me a bit sheepishly.

"No problem," I replied. We all smiled at one another before they launched their cell phones to let their parents know they were on the correct train bound for home.

Moments before we were to pull away, a final passenger entered our train car, She looked flushed and hurried.  Since I was sitting closest to the door she came in, I was the first one she saw and spoke to.

And again, the panic.

"Is this train going to Seacaucus?" she asked as she plopped down breathlessly in the seat directly across from me,

I immediately looked across the aisle at the girls.  They smiled, and so did I.  Seems we all needed to be headed there.   Still looking at the girls, I said to her, "Yes, this train is going to Seacaucus, and I'm stopping it there myself if I have to."  The girls giggled and the woman looked puzzled, but she was satisfied with my answer so she stayed put, too tired to seek out another car.  Seconds later, we pulled away from the platform.

The woman and I chatted through the first few miles and stops.  We talked about where we lived, where we had been that day, who we were.  She noticed the book I was holding as the spine was facing outward.  "Grace" by Max Lucado.  "He's one of my favorite authors," she said, and we commented back and forth about his writing for a few moments.  Kindred spirits, it seemed.

The train stopped again, and we were too caught up in conversation to see the girls go by. After a few moments, I slowly turned my head only to see the word "Seacaucus" largely displayed on the platform sign just outside the window and gasped. "This is your stop!" I exclaimed, and we laughed as she quickly gathered her things and exited the train just before it pulled away from the very place she wanted to be.

Oh, the irony.

If I hadn't had the (albeit limited) travel experience, I would have been no help to those people who were looking for a little direction, a little guidance, a bit of reassurance that afternoon.  Likewise, when I'm searching, it's best for me to go to those who have been there; who have walked the walk, grieved the pain, fought the same fight I find myself in.

But there is no human who has ever walked every journey.  Jesus has.  He's the one to follow as He's already endured everything we might possibly go through.  I can trust that He's cleared the path I'm facing with His own footsteps, and He is willing to walk it with me whenever I need Him to.

No need to panic, no need to fear.  He knows where I'm headed, and He knows how to get me there.

I just need to trust Him.

when it's hard to find the happy

There have been some rough days.  Days that easily fill my mind with worry, anxiety and concern over myself and the people I love the most.  

I pray.  And pray again.  And then I pray some more.

Sometimes things change, often sometimes they don't.

But today, for the first time in a long time, I woke up and went through my mental checklist of who and what normally concerns me when I awake and I was able to put an imaginary "it's ok" star by almost every category and individual. 

I smiled. I could breathe easier.

I felt happy.  

And then, I felt guilty.

Hmmm. Not the emotion I was going for.

The guilt revealed the real problem I have. This morning I was feeling better and happier because my circumstances had improved and things were lining up the way I had hoped they would.  I felt a little bit in control, kind of like I had God on a string and surely He saw now that He should do things my way so that I could have a very nice life.

But......yuk. That is so not who I want to be.  Because that is so not how God and life work.

I don't want to depend on my circumstances to be happy or feel joy.  I want to live above them, not under them.  I want to be someone whose faith is secure and solid; someone whose trust in God is so deep and complete that I don't need to have every box on my list checked off in a positive manner in order to feel good and approach my day with a glad heart. 

I want to live a life that greets each day with gratitude simply for the breath and life He has given me, and for the gift of knowing Him.

Even if He never answers another prayer the way I expect Him to. 

Let's face it- we all know people who have more joy and contentment on their bad days than we do on most of our good ones. And granted, we all breathe a sigh of relief when we get a reprieve from the things that have kept us up at night a good long while.  That's to be expected.

But it's the everyday joy I am seeking; the one that will remain with me when life goes haywire and my world spins crazy.  The kind that grounds me in knowing and trusting that God has all of this - every moment - in His control, even when it seems that no one, not even God, could fix the mess that is happening.  I want to approach my day if not always with a smile on my face, then with one on my heart knowing that God's got this and I can move forward in trust and confidence in the One who made me, knows me and knows exactly what I need.

Instead of reaching for my checklist to tell me how I feel, I will reach for Him. 

And I bet in doing so, I will reach joy. 


the value of the top lock

When I started my new job last year, I was given a key to the ladies room down the hall. Since only employees who had a key could access the facilities, it was obvious that my possession of such granted me access to the in-crowd, the ones in the know, the ones who could go.

I felt pretty darned special.

Until one day when someone else with a key showed up and attempted to open the door while I was actually in there, sending me scrambling to keep the door closed.  It quickly became clear that anyone with a second floor ladies room key could get in at any time regardless of who was occupying the premises.  All they had to do was put their key in the lock and swing the door wide open......

and let the irreparable damage begin.

Hold on a minute.  Surely this couldn't be the way it worked.  Was there no etiquette of the keys?  No protection from being walked in on any time of the day or night? Didn't anyone make a fist and knock anymore?

It was in my wild lunging towards a closed door about to open that I saw it.  Right there in front of me. Another piece of the locking mechanism I had missed, visible only from the inside. Usable only from the inside. Meant only for the person on the inside.

Behold the beauty of The Top Lock.

This is the latch you swing to the left after you are in the bathroom.  The one that has no key access from the other side. The one that keeps the door shut securely so there can't be any surprises.  The one that guarantees that no one, no how is getting in to see the wizard until the wizard is ready to be seen.

I exhaled. It was true. As I had hoped, the ladies room was Fort Knox after all. My faith in our property management group returned that day.

Oddly enough, maneuvering that lever made me think of my life. Where did I need to throw a top latch?  Were there areas in my heart and mind that needed protection from unwanted intruders?  Might there be parts of myself that were only loosely guarded, leaving room for temptation with an all-access key to surprise me with bad choices, influences, and juicy offers while swinging the door wide open and walking right in?

Unpleasant visitors enter my life so easily. Their names are familiar -  Judgment, Jealousy, Fear, Enviousness, Comparison, Self-defeat, Criticism...the list can get long in a heartbeat.  There's a latch I need to engage when they visit, a latch which looks like taking every thought captive to Christ and holding every errant emotion I am feeling up to God and His word. God's truth is the barricade that keeps the unwanted guest out, but just like in the second floor ladies room, it's up to me to put it into place.  God's given me all I need in His word to send those intruders packing, but I must have spent time getting ready in order to be prepared with His truth when they arrive.

I need to remember, it's not enough to just go in and shut the door.

Protection comes when I bolt it from the inside out.

balancing act

Today I was reading an excellent post by Emily Freeman on (in)courage.  She speaks about undoing - unwinding, unplugging, unscheduling, to let her spirit rest and breathe. Taking the time to actually have free time, and not let it get eaten up with an agenda. Imagine that.
She also lets the reader in on her newest method of relaxing during that free time - the art of crocheting. 
Well now, isn't that a small world.  It just so happens I have a foot in both the balancing-my-free-time and crocheting camps even as we speak. I'm not kidding.
I, too, have recently re-learned how to crochet and yes, if you're my family member and reading this, you now know we are having a yarn-based Christmas this year.
I come by it somewhat naturally.  My mother was a knitter and she made beautiful things- like an afghan that I still have today because her hands wove those stitches together.  Or a too-small-for-me red cable knit sweater that apparently I unraveled off her needles when I was 2 and she was 41 and on the phone.  A mounted wall phone....leaving me on my own with her creation and my curious toddler fingers. After the sweater was finally finished and worn by her for many years, she passed it on to me and even though it never did fit, I can't throw it out or give it away.  She and I made that one together.
But to me, two knitting needles and yarn resemble eating spaghetti with chopsticks, so I went the one-hook route and decided to crochet when I have a moment.
Which brings me to my current concern - what is the best use of my time when I actually do have a moment? or 5? or 3 hours? How much downtime is good and healthy without crossing the line to lazy? I'm at a point where I feel like I must be productive all evening at home after being productive all day at work and am having trouble finding when to stop. Or I go to the other extreme; when I get home, I don't "start" anything at all and head right to my pj's, comfort food and a favorite episode of some brainless show On Demand. And that sets the course for the whole evening...
I would like to figure out where to land in the "what do I do with my free time" game.  I definitely need to cut myself a break from churning out results 24/7, but also have to be intentional if I ever want to get a blog post written, a book drafted, the bills paid or dinner on the table for my husband and I once in a while.
What's your go-to plan when you find yourself with hours to spare?  How do you shift gears after a full work day, transitioning into evenings at home with demands or perhaps the lack of them?  Do you keep on producing, or are you able to balance productivity with relaxation? Do you crochet?  :)  
Share in the comments!

the (fairly) confident woman

Here's a concept I need to explore- Confidence.  I realized in my prayer time this morning that I really don't have much of it..... in many areas. In my looks, my clothes, my hair for starters (these are First World problems and so self-centered I can't believe I'm actually saying them). Confidence that I am enough as is.  Confidence that things for my children, me and my husband will turn out okay and that God is in control and He is working.

I hadn't realized I was lacking confidence, but after thinking about it, a part of me wonders if maybe that's a good thing to lack.

Let me explain.

In my experience, day-to-day confidence can fluctuate greatly for a woman (see First World Problems, above). We females put a lot of stock in our clothes coordinating, our doo turning out right and our makeup looking flawless each day to boost our confidence. Any one of those goes awry and there's trouble brewing.  Layer on top of that our mental assessment of the shape, size and firmness/flabbiness of our bodies at the moment, and...well, you can see how the whole day can become a slippery slope before we even leave the house.  Part Most of me wishes I could be one of those women who go without makeup every day, pulling my hair back into an easy ponytail, looking how I look and still feeling confident.  I am not there yet and most likely if I died tomorrow I would want to be buried with purple eye shadow on and a full sweep of mascara, and don't forget my earrings thank you very much.  Last impressions and all that, you know. 

But if my confidence in who I am is coming from my appearance, I'm in trouble.  Big trouble.  I believe most of us recognize this, but many of us still struggle with it.  I know I do on a daily basis.

And there's more. I need spiritual confidence.  You know - the kind that helps you to believe that God is in control and at work, which as far as I can tell translates seamlessly to the word "faith".  

But still the word "confidence" sounds like pride to me, even when I'm putting it next to the word "spiritual".  An I-don't-need-you-God-I-got-this kind of thing.  I'm wondering what place confidence has in my spiritual walk and journey.

Does confidence blend with or work against faith and trust?  Is it a trifecta of things that go together, or is confidence separate and worldly, neatly elbowing God out of the equation by putting the focus and trust in myself and how I feel on any given day? 

As a Christian, what is my perspective on confidence?  

What is yours?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.