Heart Trouble

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     Life can be hard.  One minute it seems things are going well, and just as we begin to take a little pride in the loveliness of our own lives, we can suffer all forms of attacks and disappointments that breed everything from discouragement and discontentment to paralyzing grief and unhappiness.  It happens to us all – in one way or another – at various times in our lives.  But it is what we do in these moments of brokenness that will determine how effectively God will be able to use us to encourage others in our daily walk, and ultimately lead others to look to Christ – or perhaps to cause some unbelievers to even consider the possibility that Jesus could be the real answer for what they face in their own lives.  As I started feeling led to write this – let me say upfront that there was a voice screaming at me inside my head – almost mocking me saying, “Who are you to write anything of this nature?”  I am flawed.  I fail daily. I am a product of God’s extraordinary grace, so please know that I realize more than anyone that I am the least of these.  In the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:13, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  My heart’s desire is to just plant a seed of thought and encourage others who might be struggling.

I have experienced many trials during my 42 years (it sure seems like only 29) here on planet Earth – many of my own making – pits of sin and bad choices that I more than willingly jumped into on my own for no other reason than because I wanted to.  My desires were not in line with what Christ would have me do.  He warned me as a loving Father would, sent others to encourage me in my relationship with Him and discourage me from whatever stupid thing I was about to do.  Even with such encouragement from those who wanted God’s best for me, in my stubbornness, I proceeded on to whatever self-destructive thing I wanted to do.  Did I suffer the consequences? Boy did I ever.  Over and over again in my walk with the Lord, God has repeatedly allowed me to suffer the consequences of choices I had made out of stubbornness.  And when I had had enough and could hardly bear to lift my head to ask for help, much less forgiveness, Christ was there.  Faithful to who He is, and in His tender mercy lifted me out of the muck of my own selfish choices, cleaned me up and set my feet back on the right path.

Looking back on some of these experiences, I always ask myself, why?  Why did I choose some of those things, why would I willingly take a path that I knew deep in my heart were not God’s plan or path for me?  At the time, it didn’t feel like I was being disobedient to what God wanted for me (okay….sometimes, it did).  But truly, more often times than not, these field trips to emotional desolation were a gradual progression that could be likened to a Sunday drive where I became distracted by all the pretty sights and fun things the world had to offer until suddenly I woke up and realized I was terribly off course.

After many conversations with God, some good quiet times, Sunday messages in church and talks with precious friends who have loved me through the good, bad and the ugly, I realized that the heart of my problem was just that:  my heart.  I had a hardened heart.  Now to those of you who know me well, you might laugh a little at that statement, because I am a very compassionate person – sometimes to a fault. I love people.  When others hurt, I hurt too.  My spiritual nature is one of mercy – I am not sure if it is because God has wired me that way, or because I am fiercely aware of the degree of mercy that God continually shows me and how much mercy I require on a daily basis. Regardless, I realized that I had a hardened heart.

When I think about some of my experiences, I felt a little justified in my hardness of heart, maybe even prideful of my pain in some regards.  I have experienced a tremendous amount of loss and emotional devastation, especially in the past few years.  Who wouldn’t have a hardened heart when their marriage fails after 20 years? Who wouldn’t have a hardened heart over the loss of your sense of family and belonging – certain friendships – life as I knew it?  It is easy to fall into the trap of just treating the symptoms of your pain with everything the world can offer – busyness, work, being a mother, hobbies, friends, material things.  That’s what the enemy wants us to do because he doesn’t want us to be whole. In my ongoing quest for emotional healing and a desire to experience true joy and happiness in my life, I realized that if I wanted to be healed and moved forward, I had to get to the root of what was causing my sickness, and that was a hardened heart.   Scripture is clear when it says, “Do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3:8, Psalms 95:8).  I found it interesting that in both of these verses; God follows that instruction with, “as you did in the rebellion” or “as you did in the wilderness”.  How telling is that? It would appear that a hardness of heart, often times results from a season of rebellion or time spent in the wilderness away from the safe haven of right relationship with God.   Can our hearts be hardened because of things that God allows to happen in our lives that are out of our control? Absolutely.  But I am sure of this:  God allows those things to draw us closer to himself and in order that we might be able to honor Him through those experiences.  His desire is never that we would suffer from a hardened heart.

There are many things that can cause our hearts to become hardened:  grief, anger, disappointments, selfish desires, pride, unforgiveness and unconfessed sin can all put us in a place where we are walking through life with a hardness of heart towards God and towards others.  I don’t think any of us WANTS to have a hardened heart, but I do think it is very possible to find ourselves in a place where we are aware of our malady and we do nothing about it because it feels too difficult to overcome it.  Perhaps we don’t want to acknowledge the “whys” behind our hardened heart; maybe we are reluctant to face the truth about how we got here and how to go about fixing it.  I know for myself, the fear of the inability to follow through with what God was asking me to do was huge.  I just didn’t think I had it in me to walk in that obedience and I didn’t want to fail God – again.  Romans 5:35 tells us  “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured in to our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” To me, that is a pretty clear explanation of the why behind our trials and sufferings.  Even when we don’t understand God’s reasons, our trials are to produce endurance and character and HOPE for ourselves and for others to see the Holy Spirit in us.

Scripture tells us in Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  One of my most important roles in life is being a mother.  I love my children fiercely and my deepest desire is to be a good mother to them.  I have realized that I can never be the woman, mother, sister, daughter, teacher and friend that God desires if my heart is hardened.  The Lord knows how difficult life can be and the propensity our hearts have to become hardened because of some of the pain we must endure, so he tells us to guard our hearts – to be careful that they don’t become hardened.  How can prevent falling into the trap of having a hardened heart in order that we might live in freedom and love others to the best of our ability? First, I think we must consider all that God has done for us and everything he endured in order that we might have abundant life.  If He never became hardened, then that is the example we are to follow.

Sometimes we may not even realize that we are dealing with a hardened heart.  It took me a lot of time to realize that this was the root cause of a lot of my pain.  Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I believe that if we approach God from a place of sincere desire to please Him, He will reveal to us the places where we need to allow Him to do some work.  He is also so kind to provide us with a promise of blessing when we allow him access to our broken places. Ezekiel 36: 26-27 is proof of this.  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees.”  Freedom, healing and hope are available to all of us.  All we have to do is ask and allow God to grant us a willing spirit to sustain us as He does what only He can do:  tender our hearts to become more like His own.

Willingness in the Waiting

 

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During a recent quiet time, I came across the story in Luke 7 where Jesus raised a widow’s son from the dead.  I kept being drawn to verse 13 that says, When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

The punctuation in this passage is intriguing to me.  As an English teacher, I tend to notice that type of thing.  I ponder the period at the end of that sentence.  Don’t cry.  Period.  A period in a sentence is used to imply a statement.  He wasn’t asking her not to cry, He was telling her not to cry.  Excuse me?? I’m a mother.  Make that a Mama Bear. There isn’t a lot that can get to me like something that concerns my children.  This woman, who was also a widow, had lost her only son. We don’t know how old he was, but does it really matter? It was her child whether he was 4 or 44.   Jesus told the woman not to cry, but not before his heart went out to her.  He saw her pain, her concern, her broken heart and her need and he had compassion on her.

I can identify with that mother.  Crying over a child who is hurting, who has lost their way.  Having a broken heart not only for them, but over them.  I am sure there have been times when my parents have been in that place over me.  I know for a fact there have been times when Jesus himself, has cried over the way I was navigating my life.

Maybe you are in that place today.  Many of us are, whether we would like to admit it or not.  None of us have perfect children or families, and we ourselves have all failed in one way or another.  I’m not sure whether your child is lost in a figurative sense – perhaps they just can’t seem to find what it is they are meant to do in this life, maybe they are on a path of rebellion and destructive behavior.  Perhaps you quite literally have lost your child and are drowning in grief so deep you cannot see past the step you are on. You don’t know how you will ever recover from the loss. Maybe YOU are the lost child.  No matter where you fall on the spectrum, Jesus has compassion on you.  He sees and He knows.

That’s not where this story ends.  If we stop at the death, the grief, the loss and the disappointment, we miss the best part.  We never get to understand or know the why.  So, in my best Paul Harvey voice, let’s hear “the rest of the story”.

Then, doing what only the Lord can do,  Jesus proceeded to raise the young man from the dead.  Not with a request, but with an emphatic command.  “Young man, I say to you, get up!” Again, the punctuation here is important. The exclamation point  indicates strong feelings or a forceful way of speaking. The biblical font is not in all caps, but one can’t help but imagine that Jesus might have even raised his voice.  Following this miracle, Jesus gives the young man back to his mother. He restores what has been lost and redeems the life that had been stolen from her.

Simple as that.  While this joyful ending for this woman and her son fills us with comfort and hope, we can’t help but wonder if God can and will do such miracles in our own lives and in the lives of those we love. Our situations are much more complicated – or at least they feel that way.   We try to beg, plead, pray and work to make things different in our own situations, when what we need to do is surrender.  Surrender our sons and our daughters, our fears and frustrations concerning them, our hopes and dreams for them to God.  We can trust him with our children.  He loves them even more than we do.  He understands because WE are HIS children.  Why is trusting so hard when it comes to those people and situations that are so precious and tender to our hearts? As I sit here writing this, the words to a hymn are rolling through my mind:

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, and to take him at his word;

just to rest upon his promise and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus how I trust him!

How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er!

Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!

O for grace to trust him more!

(Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus – Louisa M.R. Stead)

Even if we never see the results we desire for our situations this side of heaven, or have complete understanding of our losses and trials, we can cling to God and the promises in His Word and know that they can be trusted and that they are good. He is for us.

As for the reasons why we have to go through certain things on this Earth, and the motivation to surrender all of these things to God – the answer lies in verse 16 of this passage:

“They were all filled with awe, and praised God.”

When we continue to honor and praise God in our difficulties, losses and trials in this life and continually surrender our lives and those thing that we hold most dear to us to Him, we become testimonies of God’s faithfulness and grace, pointing others toward Him.  And that right there is all the reason we need.  Keep going.  Keep trusting.  God is working.

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Valentine’s Day Dates that Won’t Break Your Heart

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and lots of folks I know stress about finding the PERFECT gift or planning the most AMAZING date for the one that they love.  While these things are thoughtful and good, expressing love for someone shouldn’t have to break the bank.  They are also all activities that can be done for and with the ones you love, whether those relationships are romantic in nature or not! No significant other to speak of? Don’t hate on Valentine’s Day! Celebrate the people you love! Get together with your friends, spend some time with your extended family or children! All of these activities can be done on a budget and enjoyed with anyone that you love in your life!

Here are 5 Valentine’s Day Gift/Date ideas that won’t leave your wallet singing the blues:

     1. Cook your favorite (or THEIR favorite) meal together:  I enjoy cooking and spending time in the kitchen.  It’s therapeutic to me and the results are usually delightful (don’t ask my hubs about crunchy eggs *giggle*).  From our early days of dating, he would always help and get involved in whatever I had going on in the kitchen.  This was a new experience for me – and I liked it! Still do.  He’d always say, “It starts in the kitchen!” I’d have to say there is some truth in that.  Why not plan a menu together, go to the grocery store for the ingredients you don’t have and then just enjoy your time preparing the meal together.  It’s a great way to spend quality time together and maybe even try a new dish!

     2.  Create a Special Playlist or CD:  This one is sure to be a favorite, especially if your “other” is a music lover.  Spend some time creating a playlist full of songs from their favorite band or artist, songs that remind you of them or fun moments in your relationship.  This is a personal gift that requires effort and thought.  It would also make a great soundtrack for your meal making adventure, should you choose to participate in number one on the list.

     3.  Paint and Sip:  Find a local paint bar and go be creative together! The first (and last) time I did this, I attempted an Arkansas Razorback door decoration that ended up looking more like a blow fish.  I am not crafty.  However, it has been an often laughed about experience with my girlfriends and we had a ball. I’m willing to take one for the team and  I would totally go again.  Some awesome locations to check out in our local area are: branchoutconway.com , pinotspalette.com, or m.paintingwithatwist.com

     4.  Plan a Backyard Date: Put that fire pit and grill to use! Roast some marshmallows and hot dogs, grill your dinner! Lay on a blanket and stargaze! Talk about where you see yourselves in 10 years, places you’d like to travel, things you’d like to accomplish! If you’re a stargazer, download the Skyview app for your phone.  It’s awesome!! Play a game of badminton, baggo, soccer – or spend some time making chalk drawings on the sidewalk or patio with your kiddos! If you’re in an area that permits and you have the ATV’s, load your crew up on four wheelers and Rangers and go do some off road riding!

     5.  Drinks and Dessert:  Instead of waiting 2 hours and spending a lot at your favorite restaurant for your evening meal, beat the dinner crowd by going  for drinks and dessert or wait and hit them after the dinner crowd is gone.  You still get to enjoy some time in one of your favorite restaurants, but you won’t have the wait and your wallet won’t be singing the blues!

Feel free to post your most economical and fun date night activities below! I will love ya for it! 🙂

Super Bowl Sweets!

One word: YUMMO!
One word: YUMMO!

 

Did y’all have fun watching the Super Bowl like we did at our house? Way to go Broncos!

I LOVE getting together with friends and where there are friends gathered – there is sure to be FOOD! I love food too.  Everything about it.  Fixing it – serving it – EATING it.  I had the best of both worlds yesterday – I was in hog heaven! Our friend Tim literally brings bacon with him every time he comes to our house.  Then he makes something magical happen with the bacon.  We love it when Tim comes over! He gets invited a lot.  🙂

I just wanted to share a recipe I made yesterday for the gathering  It was described as “sinful”, “so good”, “to die for”……with reactions like that, I thought y’all might like to give it a try for yourselves! It was so easy to make and had a pretty presentation! It looks way more impressive than the effort it required!

 

To Die for Apple Dip

2 bricks of cream cheese

8 Tbsp brown sugar

One container of caramel apple dip

Skor or Heath Bar chips

Granny Smith Green Apples

Mix the cream cheese and the brown sugar and spread on your serving platter.

Spread the caramel dip on top of the cream cheese mixture.

Top with Heath Bar chips

Slice and arrange your apples and enjoy!

That’s it! Easy Peasy! We debated whether or not the toffee chips with chocolate would have made it even better (not sure that is possible), but you could give it a try! We just had the plain toffee ones and it was SO GOOD!!

I hope that your week is off to a fantastic start! If you haven’t gathered with some of your favorites lately, make some time to do that! It’s important to enjoy life and make fun memories with the ones that you love.  One of my new years resolutions was to really nurture the friendships and family relationships in my life.

 I will leave you now with a few photos of some of the silly kids that were at our house last night – and my friend Steph – she’s a ring leader! I love her, too.  🙂

Enjoy!

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Now You’re Talkin!

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I got in my car this morning heading to work and to drop my son off at school.  As usual, I was rushing to beat the clock.  I have determined that running behind in the mornings is one of my spiritual gifts…..hidden talents…..endearing quirks? Sigh.  Moving on……

Not only am I usually PHYSICALLY rushing, my mind is full in the mornings – going over my to do list, did I get everything that we needed for the day, what am I going to make for dinner, etc.  I’m sure most of you can relate.  It’s just life, especially for those of us who tend to fly by the seats of our pants more often than we should.

I was sitting at a stoplight, pondering all of these things and then I saw it.  My gas tank, that was previously hovering at around “you can drive 30 more miles if you’re lucky” (another one of my many “gifts”) was MAGICALLY sitting on – “you can go another week – or at least till next Wednesday.”  WHAT??

How neat is that? I got a visit from the gas fairy! Take that as you will. *giggle*

Seriously, though, my sweet hubs saw a need, as he was doing another act of kindness (picking up my son from church so I could lay on the couch and grabbing us a pizza for dinner) and he filled it.  I was going to do it – you know, like, when I got to “you can coast into the gas station if you’re lucky”. But he did that for me just because.  He’s always taking care of me!

Is filling up a gas tank or picking up a kid a big deal? Maybe not to some, but to know that he was willing to take the time to do those things to make my day a little easier spoke love to me.  Kind of like when he calls me “kitten”, it is a term of endearment that when used by him makes me feel loved.  I don’t even like cats.  We all know that cats aren’t going to Heaven, but that spoken affection makes me feel set apart to him – his special name for only me.

When Greg filled up the gas tank,  I assure you he wasn’t even thinking twice about what he was doing.  He was just doing what he does. And he sure wasn’t looking for a pat on the back here.  Truth be told, he’s kind of shy to the general public. I’m sure he’d be much more content to not be written about all the time.  Shy kid marries extrovert.  Bless him.  Little does he know that he has started a war.  Now I have to one up him…..well, I don’t HAVE to, but I WANT to. 🙂

We see so many movements today for random acts of kindness.  I love them.  I’m all about them.  I think they are neat and fun and how can you not want to be a part of something that spreads GOOD in the world? But what if we made an effort to start these movements in the relationships that are dearest to us – our marriages, our families, our friendships, and our work relationships? How would those relationships grow and change if we really started showing love in ways that matter most to the recipient?

How can we know what speaks love to those people who we love the most? It is most natural for most of us to show love for others in ways that make US feel loved.  If our love is shown in tangible ways that minister most to the person on the receiving end, they will feel that kindness even more than we can understand and maybe even intend.  There are a million resources available to help you determine the “love language” of your favorites.  I would suggest anything by Dr. Gary Chapman as a great place to start.  (See his Love Language series.)

It IS February – Valentine’s month – love it, or hate it.  I can’t see how anyone can hate it.  We all love somebody.  Maybe not romantically, but there are many kinds of love and there are ways to express deep affection and appreciation for all of the people who are special to us.

You might be in a situation where you feel a person doesn’t DESERVE to have kindness or love shown.  They’ve been a real jerk to you.  If that’s the case, I’d encourage you to make that a matter of prayer and ask God to help you see that person through new eyes.  Maybe you’re worried about the reaction (or lack of) that you might get when you express unselfish love for someone else.  If that’s the case, let me encourage you with these:

Hebrews 13:1

I Corinthians 13: 4-7

Hebrews 10:24

Galations 6:9

So today, I challenge you to start a love movement in your own life.  It will make things a lot more fun! If it’s not reciprocated, you’ll still feel good inside because you did it.

So cue “Love is the Answer” by England Dan and John Ford Coley (call it cheesy if you want…..LOVE that song!) and do a little research.  Find out the love languages of your favorites.  I triple dog dare ya!

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P. S.  If you decide to wage war in your own life and have a neat story, I’d LOVE it if you’d share your experience HERE!! xoxo