Can I be strong and courageous… again?

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This is my command–be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (NLT)

Feeling like my life has been full of uncertainty for the past year, the dust was starting to settle and all the pieces had fallen into place.

Immediately after our son was born he was whisked away to the NICU, had surgery at 2 days old and we wouldn’t take him home until 13 days after that.  Exactly 3 weeks after my mom went back to Phoenix after visiting she unexpectedly passed away and we were on a plane 2 days later.  Fast forward 9 months of constant worry about what and how to feed our little guy the questions all ceased when the “speed bumps” from our son’s surgery had finally all healed and we were given the “all clear”.

As a parent, I can’t even tell you the amount of stress that was immediately lifted from my shoulders.  Life was settling into a new and better “normal” when something came out of nowhere leaving me to wonder, how much more strong and courageous could I possibly be?

I found myself scared and immediately thinking about the message we had just heard last week in church of Joshua chapter 1.  Joshua was on the older side and although he was wise, he was no Moses when it came to the depth of his relationship with God.  In that moment I felt I could relate to him a little bit, being a tad older (for just starting a family) and I don’t have nearly the depth of relationship with God that others do.  I was scared and I am sure that Joshua was too.  At this point Moses has died and he was the chosen one to lead the Israelites into the Promised land.  Not only that but he was also going to be responsible for leading them into battle destroying the Canaanites but hear this, in Joshua’s moment of fear God steps in and gives him a pep talk.  He simply says to Joshua not once but three times to “Be strong and courageous”

Why did God choose those words:  Strong and Courageous

Strong – Chazaq means to be firm, to prevail, withstand.  When reading it like that it almost assumes success.

Courageous – amats referencing being alert and brave.

As I started to ponder these words more, I wanted them to be an action, so I reversed them and decided I wanted to be brave and withstand.

I can’t control the situation although I want to.  I can’t predict the answer to my questions, if I could I would know which to ask.  I can’t know the outcome, if I could I would be sleeping better.  So then, what is the point?  What can I control?

I can choose to place all of these things at the feet of the One already knows the outcome.
Rather than fretting over every phone call and each answer to my questions I can be brave and withstand while enduring this time of uncertainty, which can only be done with Him.

So, can I be strong and courageous?  Yes, I can because my hope is in Him

 

 

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The Puzzle

I am the ultimate busy body.  It could be the reason I chose the job I did, there’s always something going on, someone to talk to or a problem to solve.  At one point someone once told me that I wasn’t happy unless I am dribbling a soccer ball while juggling fire sticks and reading a book.  That might be a little excessive but it paints a fairly accurate picture.  Packing my life full of doing was my “happy place.”

For years I have lived the “trust God” life.  It’s like I was saying “ok God, I trust you and I know that you will take care of it but here, let me be your assistant.”  Am I the only one who finds that absolutely hilarious?  Like God needs an assistant when it comes to His will in things?  Regardless, that’s the role I pick out for myself to fill at times, perhaps more often than not.

For the past year my life was like a jigsaw puzzle that you buy at a yard sale.  Beautiful puzzle, about 4000 pieces, the color, picture and box looked like everything was perfect.

I don’t know what your puzzle  completing process looks like but for me, after the boarder is done I take a long look at the photo on the box, study the color combinations and then start diving into the hard stuff.  I take all the inside pieces and start putting them in piles that match where they go on the puzzle itself.  I think it’s a way to help me feel like I am getting little bits of it complete at a time.

So I am completing little puzzle parts of my life when all of a sudden, the remaining pieces are the same color, I can’t seem to get them to fit properly and I am sure that there’s a few pieces missing.  I was becoming weary.

Major life events, the ones that people normally take years to complete were all occurring over the course of 4 months.  Most everything was under control and fitting perfectly.  I felt like I was doing all that I could to complete the puzzle, except when it came to buying our house.  The process alone is extremely frustrating but tie in to that the fact that we were doing all the adulating possible at one time it was far more than I realized it might be.  Pieces not fitting, colors all looking the same, I was weary.

The frustration was boiling over simply because I didn’t know what else I could do to get it all done.  I was weary from all the trying and I didn’t know what else I could do.  If you have ever been through the home buying process I am sure you are sitting there shaking your head, even laughing, you know what I am talking about it was excruciating.  One night, over dinner, my father in law said something that shifted my whole perspective on it.

“We have to try pretty hard to keep God from blessing us.”

Well, yes, this is true.  The more that we are doing to try and help the process along we at times can just be stifling the blessing that is coming.  I needed to stop doing, to stop trying to get all the pieces to fit together.  Besides, isn’t it inevitable that a 4000 piece puzzle bought at a yard sale would be missing a few pieces any way?  It wasn’t going to be completed on my own.  I needed to step away and rest in the truth that this life puzzle was in far greater hands than my own.

There is a story in John 6 where Jesus feeds the 5000.  That puzzle didn’t make sense, there were over 5000 people and only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  From those wanting to be fed to the disciples, it didn’t make sense, yet in verse 10, with unwavering faith “Tell everyone to sit down, Jesus said.  So they all sat down on the grassy slopes.  Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people.” (NLT)  There were even left overs!

There’s nothing recorded as to the reaction of those who were fed on that hillside but it doesn’t seem like there was a bunch of doers trying to get it to make sense.  They simply trusted, gave thanks and sat among the green pastures.

When we release the control that we are trying to keep, the pieces seem to fall into place.  Even the ones that we are sure were completely  missing from the box to begin with.  When we allow God to have control, no matter how simple or complex, something amazing happens.  We no longer find ourselves weary from all the doing.  It is here that we find rest.  We are given an opportunity to find peace, to be refreshed and to be fed.  Not everything may go the way that we want it to but the beauty in allowing God to be the master puzzle completer is where we are freed from the bondage and pressure to do it all ourselves.  The immediate weight that is lifted allows us to finally feel complete.

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.
(Psalm 23 NLT)

Oh and yes, we got the house 🙂

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Break the Silence

I used to think that being silent was a sign of strength. As long as I could take on the challenges that came my way at the end of the long road when all was “taken care of” and “complete” I would be hailed a hero for accomplishing all things while no one knew.

I have no idea when that became a part of my beliefs but for a time I lived and breathed it. I suppose I stayed silent because I never wanted to put a burden on anyone else. It could have been not having the time or simply not seeing the importance of speaking up. I found myself leaning on fear of the known and unknown at the same time.

Taking care of everything for everyone on my own seemed to just be a part of my routine so the idea to speak up for myself didn’t interest me. I didn’t want to burden anyone with it; I would just take care of things on my own. Something scary happens there however. We become alone in our minds and that isn’t always the best place to be. Alone in our minds produces false ideas of not only us but also what we believe about others.

The false ideas that are formulated turn into confidence killers, which keep us in the mind frame to remain silent. Now is our time to move past them.

Are these any of the lies you have heard about yourself in those “alone times?”

  • I am being selfish by breaking the silence
  • Not everyone will like my choice/agree if I break the silence
  • I am weak if I break the silence

Believing these lies and making choices alone that others would love to be a part of can bring several outcomes. For example, it robs them of opportunity to walk through the storm when it’s raining and steals the chance to rejoice when we experience joy. For those of us who feel like breaking the silence will only burden others, how would you feel if those you have listened too most never broke their silence? Looking back I would have been heartbroken not being a part of wedding planning for a friend or standing along side in mourning with another who lost their mom.

What do we do? How do we start to change how we think, act and speak? We take a chance. Not every time we speak will the reactions be favorable or what we expected. That’s life, and we all know it’s not always fair. I have been there, I know. What I also know is that I spent far too long allowing those “stuck in my own mind” moments to dictate and formulate unrealistic expectations no only on myself but others.

So speak up. God gave us a voice for many things. He gave us the ability to reason, formulate words and use them for a purpose and that purpose wasn’t only to speak when it’s comfortable or convenient.

As a writer one might think words come easy but sometimes they don’t so all I can do is try. Will you try with me? Perhaps together we can begin to change the pattern in our minds, our habits and begin to experience less of those “alone times” where confidence killers have an opportunity to take root. When silence is broken strength is renewed and healing begins.

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Be refined

It’s funny how one memory can spark a fury of emotion.  I use an app on my phone that goes back in time and shows what photos I took and other things posted on social media over the years.  This morning a photo came up and the wave of emotion which washed over me took me by surprise.

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This photo was captured initially because I thought it was cool to be able to take a photo of my own footprints in the wet sand without being able to see the ones walking away from it.  Today, I look back and see a moment where the ocean was about to wash away those footprints…. and my goodness did they ever.

That moment in time was surrounded by confusion, feelings of being lost, unloved, scared and willing to be tossed about in the waters that were so quickly rising above my head.  It was a time where I was letting the world define who I was and where I wanted to go.

How often do we in life look back at moments like this and cast them aside as a “oh that happened….” thought?  I nearly did that this morning.  I nearly let that moment pass.  Looking back I very clearly remember standing on that beach gazing out over the ocean waters and saying these words “Lord, please make it clear to me what to do next.  If it is to be, make it clear, if not, then help me let it go.”

Less than 3 weeks later it was clear as day what direction I was to go.  I remember it being excruciatingly painful.  I recall hours of tears and pain beyond what I thought I could bear. Although today as I look back and remember the prayer that came from my mouth, I am full of joy knowing what I thought I couldn’t bear to take on, I now know was exactly what I never knew I needed to conquer.

In life we have moments which we can either chose to let define us or refine us.

Define –  def: To mark out boundary or limits of
Refine –  def: Improve by making small changes

4 years ago I was willing to let it define me but looking back I am so thankful I let it refine me.  As those ocean waves washed up and pulled my footprints back to sea the refinement process began.  To be refined wasn’t about simply overcoming the situation at hand.  I couldn’t see past my pain for a long time.  I had boundaries and limits on what I could see and handle.  My problem wasn’t what was going on it was who I was letting define me.  As soon as I changed my focus from everyone else to God everything changed from a defining moment to a refining moment.

I don’t know what your summer looked like but for me it was dotted of moments of frustration, pain, tears, hurt, confusion, misunderstandings and I could go on….. but something I am learning is in those seasons of life we have an opportunity to make a decision.  Be defined or be refined.  So as you look back on the summer, don’t let the painful moments simply pass by for the sake of not wanting to feel the ugly feels again.  When we do, we run the risk of not being able to see the refinement that is beginning.

Be You

Be you

I feel, and I feel deeply.  I imagine that’s why I was so worried about going on this trip to begin with.  You see, I am a shy, introverted person who not only feels deeply but hurts deeply too.  I knew that my crazy busy life kept me from being involved in all things Facebook, GroupMe, Text, email and what have you, so the anxiety surrounding this weekend was already high enough.  The number of times that I nearly cancelled the trip easily climbed into the double digits but yet I kept moving forward.

In March when I was selected (at random) to be a part of the launch team for a book that you all know I have talked about until I am blue in the face, I never imagined that it would turn into this.  We were all invited to join other launch team members at the authors house!  To make things even crazier I ended up getting invited to stay in the planning house (although I think I did more praying over things than planning) with 19 other women from all over the country.  If you know me, you know that’s an almost paralyzing situation for me to be in.

Thursday morning came, 3am to be exact and I made the trek from Washington state to Austin, TX.  Finally getting to the house and walking in the door quietly saying “hello?” were words and actions that took far more effort than I ever expected it to. 2 precious ladies were already there and so it was beginning.  I tried to be far more involved than was comfortable and throw myself into as much as possible. You see, I am one who will want to be involved but it’s just not one of my strengths so when I am not, it results in continuing to hide deeper inside of myself.

Throughout the weekend conversations I found myself sitting along the sideline just listening and watching.  I realize that I put myself there but the beautiful result was, I was just able to sit and watch The Lord move through the weekend.  Tiny prayers that I whispered quietly to God like “please send someone to room with me” turned into being given the precious gifts of 2 amazing women.  One evening as I was amongst over 200 women but found myself walking across the yard alone I spoke a prayer in my heart “God I really don’t want to eat alone” and within seconds a friend walks up and says “I was just praying that God would give me a dinner buddy”  Answered prayer.

Over these 3 days I listened to stories, tears, prayers, hopes and dreams.  I sat along the side of the room, watching & listening.  At times I felt very alone but what happened at the end of the weekend made be finally comfortable being me.

With every story that was told, while I rarely said anything, every word that was spoken sank into my heart.  I recall countless times thinking to myself “you’re not even making a contribution”.  I had moment after moment where I thought “what am I doing here” but it was on my way to the airport on Sunday morning that it hit me.

It wasn’t about me being there so that I could be in the middle of the conversations, heck I missed SO many I don’t even know half the inside jokes and stories that were told but I was just me and perhaps that was totally why I was there.  I may not have been in more than 5 or 6 photos from the entire weekend.  Most people may never know I was there but I had a purpose.  For the 1 hour drive to the airport that morning I prayed over every single woman in that house and recalled story after story that they shared about their lives.  There was a peace that came over me.

We all have something to contribute.  No matter how large or how small.  We just need to be us.  If I would have gone into that weekend trying to be someone that I wasn’t then maybe I wouldn’t have been in the situation to take all these precious prayers before the Lord.  I think society tries to make us feel like we have to “fit in” or “be like everyone else.”  As one of my dearest friends likes to remind me.  STOP IT!  So I say – Be you!

I don’t know what the future holds for me and each of those women but I know that they have all impacted me in a way that I never saw coming.  I know that I can just be me.  Quiet, sit in the corner, on the bottom step, chin on my knees me.  I can carry the burdens of others deep in my soul and lift their wants and needs up to God in prayer and yet never speak a word.  I love them dearly.

Please never stop being you.  The moment that we stop being who we are created to be the world wins and we rob others and ourselves the joy that comes with being comfortable in our own skin.  Be You.

Comparison

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For the past several months I have been a part of an incredible journey and opportunity of a lifetime.  I was chosen to be a part of the book launch team for Jen Hatmakers new book For the Love.  It’s been an incredible journey of meeting new friends growing in life, love and encouragement.  This post is a part of her For the Love blog tour (to learn more and join us click here).

For the love of exercise I completed  my first triathlon on Sunday.  I initially had typed that I was competing in it but then it hit me that I didn’t compete… I completed.  I had carried around this excitement for a couple days and if I can be honest with you I still get really excited when I get to tell the story.  Ask me, I will fill you in 🙂

For the first time in a long while, as I was preparing to jump in the water for the swim, I wasn’t the overweight girl, I was just me.  I just wanted to finish.  Off into the water, around the pylons, onto the bike, off the bike and on to the run.  Now, by this point I couldn’t tell you if I was running on adrenaline or actual energy but I would venture to guess it was the first of two options.  What happened next I still kick myself over, and wish that I could re-do.

As I began the run I just simply could not get my legs to move any faster than a brisk walk. I was beginning to get very frustrated.  If you are anything like me, when that time comes I find myself looking down at the ground a lot more.  I was ashamed and disappointed.  As I am looking at the pathway crawl under me I can see all the ages of people that are passing me by (they write our age on our left calf).  41, 37, 60…. all running by and for the next 1/2 mile I walked through every bad name anyone had ever said to me and even the ones that I had said to myself.

As mile 1 crept up I knew that I only had 2 more to go.  Something changed in my head and I decided that I wasn’t going to finish like this.  I remembered reading in Jen Hatmakers book For the Love (and yes that is a link to buy it because it’s that amazing) she says this “We measure our performance against an invented standard and come up wanting, and it’s destroying our joy.”  Amen sister! I repeated those words to myself and decided that the last 2 miles were not going to go down like the first one did.

My performance had nothing to do with the ladies who were 41, 37 or 60.  It was about me!  It was about the fact that I was out here doing this and I was going to complete it.  It would be a total waste to do all that work and allow the comparison game to steal my joy!  This standard that I invented and put on my self to be better than anyone else was absolutely leaving me wanting for more.  It took all the joy that I had in me and threw it back into the lake that I had just swam in.

Y’all, then I rounded the corner (yes, running this time) and I could hear the sweet excited voices of my friends who had driven to the 2 mile mark to cheer me on from there.  I heard one say “Go Amanda, you’ve got this” and I thought to myself yep… I sure do.  There’s my joy, it cannot be destroyed.  I had 1 mile to go and I could consider myself a triathlete….that is a thing right?  Eh, let’s go with it.

It’s not even just about athletic events that this happens!  It’s all over life we find ourselves trying to live up to this standard that no one has put on us but ourselves. If only it was taught in school that we don’t have to listen to what society says we have to do, don’t you think that we would be in a much better place?  Or would we?  Thank you to social media for being the biggest culprit.  I will admit that I do love it most of the time but we have to be careful not to get caught up in comparing our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.  Let’s face it when was the last time that you only posted the ugly nasties that were going on in your life for all of Facebook and Instagram world to see?  I know I don’t.

So let’s stop letting all this comparison and crazy invented standards destroy our joy and let’s just focus on the finish line.  When we get there, the emotions will flow… let em.  You did this, you competed and completed.  Go get ’em!

Weak enough….

What if I am not weak enough?  That was the thought that ran through my mind like a freight train on my way to work yesterday.  I was in the middle of a week of working a lot of hours, training for a race and all the other things that I have going on yet in the midst of everything I still couldn’t seem to get rid of this small but screaming uncomfortable ache inside my soul.

For weeks I had been working through this and while I thought it was fading more and more each day what I really longed for was the time that I would wake up and it wouldn’t be there at all. Alas, today as not that day.  But that’s when it hit me.  What if I am not weak enough.

Paul talks about our weaknesses in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 and I have written about this before but at the very end of verse 10 he says something that I couldn’t get out of my mind.  “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” What if I hold on to this weakness just enough that I think I can get through it more on my own, so that I can feel like I was able to overcome under my own strength.  Here’s the thing however, Paul says right here “for WHEN I am weak THEN I am strong.”  I need to allow myself to admit that I am weak, because then I find that I can get my self out of the way enough that God can work in me.

HE can work his ways in and through me, I am then given the strength to take this on, I am made strong and what happens next?  The when becomes then. When I am sad and upset, frustrated, hurt and insecure I then become strong, loved, understood, respected and secure in who I am.

When I am weak enough, it brings me to a place where while I cannot change the actions or words of others I am made strong in knowing that there is an almighty God who cares for, loves and desires what’s best for me far beyond any thing or any one in this world.  When  I am weak then I am strong…. It’s so easy to sit back and not want to admit our weaknesses.  Or better yet to see them and stand in the way because we think that is when we are made strong.  Like we have the ability to fix it all, or at least somehow that my not sleeping and tears that fall from my eyes will somehow be my strength? It’s not.  It never has been.

In fact, when I have allowed myself to truly be weak enough it’s only then that I can get out of my own way enough to see the strength and power of God coming through.  I just need to stop fighting and be still.  Listen & be weak enough.

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