January 2nd

So how many of you set goals and have already slacked on them?

Ha. I know it’s January 2nd and you may feel behind. Or that you’ve failed.

I mean I had resolved to not write this year. I felt I was being led away from writing, and yet, here we are. But when you have these deep seeded goals for your life, not just this month, this year, you find yourselves coming back to them giving them another go, right?

I think that’s why people set goals on better health-whether dieting or working out-around this time of year because we know we want to feel better, and our health drives so much of the rest of our lives. When we feel good about our health, we naturally let it flow into other areas-our relationships, our families, our work.

I was chatting with a member of my class yesterday before we started about how I like to work out first thing in the morning a few times a week (I teach after work the other days) and she was floored that I get up that early to run or lift weights. I told her it’s a direct correlation to how I feel. If I don’t, I am typically in a funk, shaming myself for sleeping in or choosing “I don’t wanna” over a good day. I will inevitably eat worse, I’ll feel sluggish throughout the work day, and frankly, I tend towards grumpiness.

That may not be for everyone, but how you start your day flows into what choices you make throughout your day. It’s something I learned much later than I would have liked. It would have saved me alot of wrestling…and I will be honest with you, I didn’t make it this morning, but I consciously told myself today would be a rest day because I had already prepared out my week for working out and other plans with friends.

Be intentional about your week, your days. If you set out with a plan instead of cannon-balling into them, you’d be surprised how much extra time and energy you can make for yourself to accomplish those goals.

And yes, it is work. You have to put effort into what you want. It took effort for you to get where you are now, and if you want to be at another marker or meet a goal, you’ve got to do the work. Only you can do it, and you have to figure out the map for you specifically on it.

That Insta-model or celebrity you follow has trainers, they have time because they put in the work elsewhere. They can spend three hours with a trainer in their home because of other factors that just aren’t applicable to you. Maybe for you, it’s two visits to the gym this week. Or taking one group class instead of getting on the dead-mill (yes, I use it but I prefer running outside). But it won’t just happen in your schedule.

You have to prepare and you have to work for it. Pack that bag the night before while the kiddos pack their lunches–and by the way, pack your lunch too. Prep out so you aren’t leaving rushed from the house. I never feel more like an adult than when I have set the coffee brewing timer the night before and have pre-packed my lunch before I go to bed.

Because on January 2nd you’ve not failed. You’ve only given yourself room for growth and opportunity. So don’t shame yourself today if you feel like you’re already behind on your goal for 2019, or for your self.

It’s Day 1 for you. And you are the one that matters to you. Your goal is the one that matters to you. You are the one who has to do the work to make it happen for you. Be intentional. Put in the work.

 

Begin Again

So here we are a week into 2017. How are those resolutions treating you? Or better yet, how are you treating them? I know all the statistics surrounding the people who keep their resolutions is staggering at best. It reminds us of failure and best laid plans.

Shoot, even I indulged in cheesecake yesterday and thought “well, here you are ya failure.” But then I remembered it’s my choice. I chose to grab that deliciousness (and it was delicious) with the same choice I made to get in good health this year. One doesn’t nullify the other but it can overshadow it if I let it.

I can allow the weight of one poor decision to counteract the good intentions and focus I had the other six days of the week. Or I can say that this was a choice today, that has no effect on what I accomplished the other six days this week and will have zero bearing on the next six days following.

new-years-resolutions-calendar

Recently I was listening to a friend speak about beginning again…something we all often like to do in January each year. We have come off the indulgences (and some over indulgences) of the holiday season that lasted well over six weeks. We have said “come January” more often than we would care to admit. In my friend’s sermon I couldn’t help but think about how we reserve January 1 as a do over day. We hit reset, wipe the slate clean and start fresh.

But what about April 18? Or July 24? Or October 1?

I think we put far too much emphasis on the date on the calendar than we do the intentions and purpose of our hearts and minds. We lump in so much, put alot of pressure on a new year, on January 1 to bring about some radical shift in our lives that when it’s a week later and we’ve not seen much we grow discouraged. Or when we slip up because we’ve lived for the last eight weeks, eight months, eight years, a lifetime a different way that we chalk it up to us being failures.

What if instead of letting one slip up damage the whole focus of your determination, preparation and focus, you allow it to give you another reset? What if instead of focusing on the location of where you find yourself on January 8th, you focus on the people you get to interact with, what you can learn from them, how you can bring brightness to their day?

Maybe you do need to begin again today. It’s a new day, full of new mercies. It’s full and waiting for you. Maybe it’s about not letting the date on the calendar or one poor choice dictate how your life is structured and lived out. You get the choice. You get the decision. You get to tell failure that it had it’s time, you have learned and you are utilizing that to move in the direction you feel led. That it’s not about where you are in location, job, relationship, hardship or joy but it’s about choosing to begin again with yourself.


You can listen to my friend’s sermon here. (And you should)

The Manger

You know the song we sing around this time of year, “Away in a Manger”? Well that song has been on my mind for weeks now. Odd, I know. Of all the Christmas carols, hymns, songs to have, that one isn’t one that truly sticks out as a mind-grabber. But alas, here I am this morning humming it while I clean up breakfast and look at the tree partially lit up (half the lights at the top went out, it’s a thing I just don’t have the will to drag out new lights for).

The line “the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head” is what keeps popping into mind and I am having a hard time here with it. Here’s why…

I think we like to look at Christ as this babe in a feeding trough there in a stable-structure. We like to see Him as this babe that shepherds came to marvel and wise men sought to honor with gifts, but we keep Him there in this context throughout our lives.

jesus-in-the-mangerWe have this concept that Christ is infant-to wonder and lavish love upon, but we don’t like the reality that His Presence commands of our lives. We don’t like that when He came with us, our selves got a bit too uncomfortable, our lives got rocked by Emmanuel. God with us.

Because that meant we couldn’t point to His absence, His silence, as excuse. He physically laid out His life, relinquishing the glories of heaven and His right in order that we might be in relationship with Him. In a few months we’ll look to Him on the cross, but I think we often upgrade the image of Christ as a babe in order to downplay our need for Him.

When we put Christ only in the image of the manger, born in a stable as a helpless babe, it appeases our self to think He can’t do it all, He can’t be relied upon and maybe He needs our help instead of the other way around. We don’t greet Him with welcoming in our lives often, but instead stare in wonder at this humanness of God Incarnate instead.

In reading Luke’s account of Christ’s life, I love the honesty of Mary with Gabriel. Just yesterday  we talked about Zechariah’s response to him as he hears the news of an impending birth. Then just a few verses later, we see Mary greeted by this angel (y’all he wasn’t some little cherub all cute and fluffy, this was Gabriel, mighty angel come to bring the news). Same truth of a birth coming, only this one is the Savior of the world, God Himself. Mary’s initial response is one of confusion, not doubt. But how can she get pregnant as a virgin, unwed? She wasn’t doubting his news, she just couldn’t see the possibility of it with her.

But her response to Emmanuel coming to her, coming to us?

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.

“May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Is that how we respond to Christ the King? Is that how we address Him even now, knowing His redemption of our souls was purposed through this very season we celebrate? Do we look to Him as the authority of our lives even in the context of the manger? Because y’all, He didn’t stay in the manger. He didn’t stay in the tomb. He reigns, rules and intercedes for us…

He’s not away in some manger, helpless and in need of us. It’s us that needs Him. We needed Him thousands of years ago, in that manger, to herald a new hope, to rejoice as our weary souls cried out for a Savior. We needed the new morning, new mercies, redemption and grace. There it all came, in the form a baby, heralded by an angel and under all authority given by God Himself, so that we may say “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Here I Am

“Mom!”

“I’m over here!”

You’ll hear that a lot in grocery stores, shopping malls and the like, especially this time of year. I know I even still yell it on occasion when I’m with my mom someplace. That universal cry of “MOM!” in a crowd and inevitably that mom will know it’s their kid, even at 35. 

In Genesis, Abraham hears God call his name, notonce  but twice. This often means urgency and need for attention. You see, Abraham had a knife lifted above his only son, following in the command of God to sacrifice him. God called to him, not out of a need to know where he was but to gain his attention at this pivotal point. Abraham’s response?

Here I am

It wasn’t as if God didn’t know where he was, searching all over the mountainside He’d guided him to for this event. The response by Abraham gave such distinct clarity to his obedience to God. He was right there, right there where God had called him to be, even when he might have wondered why or even in the hurt of the impending loss of his son. He was very present to the moment of obedience. 

God doesn’t have to search for us, that’s not what he was doing here, and it’s not what we see done throughout Scripture when these responses have been given. In reading I was doing I found that over the course of the Old Testament Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, and obviously Abraham all responded with “here I am,” when called by the voice of God. “When used in conversation with God, it’s an obedient response that always seems to have monumental consequences.” Trace the stories of those men from their response and you can tangibly see that presence to God’s call leads to some pretty major events. 

Even in Isaiah 58, as he prophesies, we see even God respond with this exact phrasing of presence in the midst of or hurting, He responds with healing and salvation. We see Him move into that space for us and let us know we are not along in it. But He also desires that response from us when called. He knows where we are, so when He’s calling out to us, it’s for our response of obedience. 

“Here I am,” means I am present to what You have me in and I am willing to accept it with You. It’s not a response of doing it alone or reluctance. It may mean laying aside the dream or desire you are clinging to, much like Abraham had been with his beloved son Isaac. While the Lord God stepped into his obedience and saved him from death, obedience often looks at whatever we’ve  been clinging to as the thing that needs to die, or at the very least lain down in order to have open hands of receiving the better thing He wants to give us-Himself. The cost of it can often be much, but what blessing in obedience we reap is far greater. 

It makes me wonder, and hone in on whether I am making myself available and present to Him. Whether I am responding with “Here I am” or attempting to dodge what I know He is asking of me in the present. When I am available and present to Him, He always is available to me. 

That Year in Birmingham

In a couple of weeks I’ll be headed to Birmingham for an event. At one time, just after college, I called Birmingham home for a year. I have been back once, for a little over 24 hours, in those 13 years since I packed up a that Uhaul trailer with my dad and grandfather and booked it back to Tennessee.

In planning my trip back down, I couldn’t help but recall the first time I went to B’ham as a freshly-educated college grad knowing I had a job in baseball. One week in I was crumpled on the floor of my kitchen telling my sister it was a mistake to be there. That I had somehow made a terrible decision, living five hours from anyone I knew, and I wasn’t possibly going to be able to make it in this city that didn’t offer me much.

Part of me cringes at that memory because of the emotion of it all, remembering how bleak my outlook was and how incredibly alone I felt in that city. The other part of me rejoices though, because I am 13 years wiser from it. God drew me there, whether I wanted to recognize it or not, for a purpose and a reason. He led me there, to get me right here. He did some significant work in me over that year that I can only see in hindsight, and allowed me to work out who I was in some difficult moments.

Throughout my time in B’ham I made some poor decisions, I will own that entirely. My way, my will and my attitude won out on several occasions but I am also able to see how I needed to work out that in an environment where it was me dealing with Him without distraction or other voices bringing solace. Being there allowed me to see where He was not leading me and I was taking my own path and my own way. It brought me back to Him in a way which if I had remained in Knoxville I would not have seen nor chosen.

In so much hurt and grief we cannot possibly see how it’s for our good while we are in it. We cannot see how being alone in place, a place we don’t like and the circumstances aren’t how we would craft them could bring anything remotely resembling His good for us out of it all.

But it does.

It did for me. I am pretty sure it will for you too, if we let go of our expectation of the situation, our will and our way and accept the work God is doing without knowing what it is. The end result isn’t the point, it is what you are going through that’s refining you and making you who God intends you to be in His image, as His reflection and not your own.

The whole process, in the circumstance, in the location, in the job, in the relationship…all of that is the point. Sometimes it takes a whole lot of distance of years or miles to see it. To see how one of the worst and hardest times of your life was also one of the best parts of your relationship in Christ, with God through the Holy Spirit.

But we have to allow it. We have to accept it. We have to be willing to go through it, even in the ugly, even in the lonely, even in the longevity of it all. It’s never about us. It’s about the work He’s doing, we just have to receive it.

The Cave

Often we equate our life experiences to mountains and valleys, sometimes we even throw in a plateau season. Our life journey consists of these three for us if take stock.

Recently I became enamored with the Mt. Everest summit team on Snapchat (yes hi, I’m on there too). It followed the trek of two of the guys each and every step of the way. They were summitting at the same time as those who would pass away on Everest were ascending. One ended up at the ABC camp about 8K feet from the summit while the other was able to reach it and rejoin him two days later. It was fascinating to watch their journey parlayed over the app and have them describe in detail the pain and agony of getting close to only fall short in his mind.

In thinking about their journey, and how we correlate our own experiences to those same ascents, descents and valleys of our lives I couldn’t help but be stuck that there was something missing. Mountaintops give us the highs. Valleys give us the lows where we find still waters, hardships or circumstances that inevitably bring us back to a mountain or plateau. It struck me on Saturday as I went up to Kentucky that we also have another life experience we don’t like to discuss.

The cave. IMG_4774.JPGWhere we are brought further into a valley, to dig deep into our lives and journey to the core of self. Of who we are and what is laid beneath the surface of our lives.

As I walked through the world’s largest cave system Saturday, I couldn’t help but think about my own tunneling in. How God has brought me into this time before where I was weary of the dark, not understanding where it was leading and being fully dependent upon the small flickering light ahead of me.

It illuminates and casts shadows. It can be a daunting place to excavate and maneuver, but you find your footing and you go deeper.

You seek out paths that the light leads in order to continue the journey. You keep thinking that maybe you’re there, and then you turn into a tight squeeze where you might need to get low to get through. Where you find that you don’t quite fit without leaving some of who you brought in with you behind. You shift and change, still moving forward as the light continues on.

IMG_4772Then you face the pit. A pit you can’t quite see the bottom of. You look down and know you have to get across it, but you fear falling into it, unsure of the pit within your own self. A darkness you weren’t aware of that was just around the bend. But you have footing that is sure, that was bridged over long before but allows you to see between the cracks. You see what could have been, what you would have been pulling out of, but instead with sure footing you walk across, remembering what once was but on the path which is leading you to who you are now.

The journey deeper into discovering who you are within isn’t one to be rushed, nor for the sights like you get on the mountaintops or even in the valley views. It’s a process of seeing what you have been, markings left from journeys past, as you dig deeper, sometimes on belly with a spoon, keeping the light ever before you knowing there are paths to discover that lay out more of who you are becoming, allowing light to flood a once darkened space. And when you do journey through, sometimes it’s not to the other-side of the cave within but it loops you back to the beginning, right where you began but not the same. Eyes having become accustomed to the dark that the light at the precipice is far brighter than realized when we bask in it. Knowing that the light within was all that was needed to illuminate our journey but a far greater one awaits for us to take up and take out.

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Sometimes going deeper within is what equips us to begin the next season of our journey, up the mountain, down the plateau or through the valley. But knowing that the Light which we held before us in the cave is still ever before us.

Mossy Trees, Creation, and Tuesdays

Recently I have been enamored with the bigness of the world, of everything around me. One of my absolute favorite things is to look up under a tree, sometimes catching the sun peaking through the leaves and branches. I caught myself yesterday just standing on this beautiful plantation enveloped in the absolute bigness of this world. I probably looked crazy standing with eyes closed underneath hanging moss breathing deep, but honestly the older I get the more I really don’t care the perceptions of strangers. Their dialogue on my life isn’t affecting me breathing in the goodness of the creation before me. 

It’s the created reveling in the Creator’s work. 

No other part of creation, from His Hands, were created to enjoy this creation, to look at it with eyes of wonder and joy, to be content in giving Him the glory for all that is. When we look at Genesis 1:31 we see this same affirmation by God, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (HCSB, emphasis mine) Even as I type Bryan and Katie Torwalt are filling the still of my room with the words “let us experience the glory of Your goodness,” (from Holy Spirit, which makes me weep with joy) and that is a prayer worth singing out each and every day.

My hangup comes though when I want that bigness in every moment, grandeur and flooding visions of beauty and praise. Often the bigness of His creation is brought small in my life. It’s in the glimpse from a rear view, the quick word of encouragement, the found note from a memory long ago, or even the breath filling deep in a moment when the world may be coming in quick and hard. 

I sometimes forego the creation joy to push for the grander reveling, big moments held out for instead of sitting in the beauty of a Tuesday as Emily P. Freeman writes about so perfectly in Simply Tuesday. The small matters, the quiet stillness of a moment or a task completed is worthy of acknowledgement and we alone are created for that. The small leads and grows us day in and day out, walking us to the big to cherish and know of the Creator deeper. We run after big, wanting that in everything and every day when the small is with us in the moment.

Honestly it’s like saying we want Christ in His table-turning, miracle-performing  rather than the whispers of the Holy Spirit in moments. Both worthy and things worth desiring, but y’all we get both. We get the big and the small alike. It’s our choice to see the small as a means of revelry and praising. The bigness of creation is brought small by the Creator each day, it’s our choice as the created to recognize it for the very good that it is before us. 

Even when it means stopping in the midst, eyes closed, allowing Creator to meet with me the created under a mossy tree in the middle of Mississippi.