Sunday, August 23, 2015

Things to Remember When Starting a New Season

Last week I left my oldest at Liberty University.  This week I will be leaving my youngest in Germany at boarding school.  We are not using the words "empty nest" but basically that is what it is.  My husband and I will be returning to Central Asia without the kids, moving to a new city, and I will be teaching at a new school.  I think you could call that a new season.  Some seasons may be more dramatic than others.  You may be figuring out retirement.  Your kids are going to a new school or you have decided to homeschool this year.  Maybe you are starting a new job or for this season staying home. 

New seasons can be exciting but they can also be scary and full of changes that we are not sure we are ready for.  Sometimes we choose the new season, and other times it is chosen for us.  My prayer is that this new season will be a good one and I will be able to weather the changes gracefully.    So as I start this new season, here are a few things that I am trying to remember.

1. Make God a priority.  

This is always easier said than done.  A new season means my normal routine gets out of whack.   Also at the start of something new, I often have trouble focusing and am easily distracted.  I need to be intentional in looking to God for wisdom, taking time to worship, and being thankful.  God is in the transitions.  I just need to look for him there.

One thing that I hope will help with this is a new app called First5 from Proverbs 31 ministries. You can use it as a morning alarm and the alarm ring is actually pleasant to hear first thing in the morning.  After turning off the alarm, you can start the first 5 minutes of your day by reading the day's devotion.  This week they are starting on the book of Genesis.  The devotionals are written by a group of women who take turns writing the devotional for each day and then on the weekends, they do a short video recapping the week.  

2. I won't be out of my comfort zone forever.

 Obviously a new season means new things.  New things mean doing things that feel awkward at first.  New routines often result in feeling a little unsure of myself and questioning if I am doing things right.  New season bring new relationships where getting to know each other takes time.  After a time, I will no longer feel out of my comfort zone, but it will take time. I need to be patient with myself and others during this season.

When we first moved to Central Asia.  Everything was awkward.  Did I do my greeting right?  I got cabbage when I wanted creme.  Did I dress right?  The cleaning lady couldn't understand what I was saying.  Did my teammates like me?  Would I be a good fit for the team?  Overtime those things were no longer an issue.  It just took time and practice. 

3. Old Enemies will likely knock on my door.

At different seasons, I have dealt with insecurity and depression.  When new seasons start, these old enemies try to come back in my life.  They lie and cheat and try to control my emotions.  To quote, Lysa Terkeurst, I need to remember that "emotions are indicators not dictators."  It is important to not listen to the lies that want to hijack me but read and speak the truth of God's word.  It helps that I have some great friends that pray for me and that I can talk to about what is going on in my life.  

This last week I have been fighting the enemy of insecurity.  Am I good enough?  Will I be up to the challenge of this fall?  Did I prepare my kids for these next steps?  I keep second guessing what I say.  I feel a little more uncertain with new people.  I find myself having to take every thought captive and to remember whose I am and who I am because of what God did.  It helps to journal and spend time in the Psalms.  Telling someone about the insecurity also helps as it helps me sort the truth from the lies.

4.  I need to be open to new things but not necessarily in a hurry to say yes.

Some new seasons bring extra time and space on my schedule.  It is human to want to fill that space with good things.  The trouble is sometimes it is easy to say yes because we have time not because it is a good fit or what we are suppose to do.  

For example, this spring everyone was asking what I would be doing in the fall with my kids gone.  I didn't have an answer.  I explored a few options but mostly concentrated on my kids and finishing out their school year.   It was when my husband approached the idea of us moving and me teaching at the new school that I knew it was something we needed to look into.  After praying about it and discussing the pros and cons, both my husband and I thought it was a good next step.  

5.  I can't do this on my own.

Which takes me back to #1.  I can't do this new season without God.  I am so glad that I am not on this journey alone.  In God's word, it says.
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deut 31:8
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  IS 43:2 
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  Ps 3:5
What are some things that have helped you in your new seasons?  Are you in a new season?  If so what are some things, you are dealing with?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Counter Culture, Blogging, and a Comfort Read ( August Reads 2015)

I am finding that reading a chapter of my book right before I go to sleep is a perfect way to end my day.  The only trouble is that sometimes I end up reading more than one chapter and staying up too late.  Still it has been a great way for me to unwind each evening as we have been traveling, and our days have been full of people and activities.  Now I get to read on a new kindle that my husband bought for me as an early birthday present.  I wasn't sure if I would like the upgrade since everything is touch screen.  I love its size and how easy it is to use.  My old kindle was over three years old and had been to Central Asia, Europe, China and back to the states with me.  It is still going strong but has needed a few extra reboots the last few months.  My husband who knows what helps keeps me sane insisted we go ahead and upgrade since we would not be able to get a new one quickly if my old one gave out.  He is even letting me have it before my birthday which is fun.  (Of course, we have to make sure it works.)  

Once a month, I share what I have been reading and link up with Anne at the Modern Ms. Darcy and others on what they have read this month.  Here are the short reviews of three books I am or have read this month.

1. Counter Culture by David Platt

 Every summer a friend and I read a book together and discuss it.  This was our choice for the summer.  David Platt did a great job of biblically talking about the issues of our day.  Each chapter covers a different issue and then has ideas at the end on how we can be more involved in making a difference.  One thing I appreciated is how David doesn't point fingers but gets to the heart of each issue.  I would say this quote sets the tone of the book.
Instead, the most offensive claim in Christianity is that God is the Creator, Owner, and Judge of every person on the planet.  Every one of us stands before him guilty of sin, and the only way to be reconciled to him is through faith in Jesus, the crucified Savior and the risen King.  
I have also been having my teen son read it as part of his summer reading list. It has made for some good discussions on our long car rides.

2. Delicious Blogging by Debi Stangeland

Debi's book is full of advice on how to make your blog better.  Each chapter deals with a different aspect or area of your blog and how to make it better.  She likes to use baking analogies to help get her point across.  Her action steps are practical, and she provides extra links to help you have more resources at your disposal.  I am only a third of the way through the book and have used most of her ideas.  If you have been to my blog before, hopefully,you have noticed a few of the changes that I have made.  (Hint: I now have a profile picture even if it is just a caricature.)   

3. Taken by Dee Henderson

Dee Henderson books are always a comfort read for me.  She has talent for bringing in characters from some of her other books to complement a new edition of characters.  This particular book is about a former cop who helps a young woman who had been kidnapped 11 years ago and just escaped.  It is a book about who did it, healing after trauma, and answering  the question is God still good when things like this happen.   Here is a quote from one of the conversations between the cop and young woman.
"Then let's not be abstract.  God didn't stop men from hurting me.  Does that fact make God not good?  I concluded that God was suffering as I was, but He didn't want to end free will or bring the world to judgement yet, so He permitted what happened.  People hurt me, not God.  He didn't divinely rescue me from the world I live in, even though that was in His power.  He simply walked each hour and day of it with me, and promised me that justice was coming.

What books have you read this month or are planning to read this fall? 
(Affiliate links included in this post)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Pure and Genuine Religion (James 2 Verses at a Time)

What do I claim to be?  I may not claim to be religious, instead I might use other terminology.  I might say, " I am a Christian.  Or I am a follower of Christ."   However I label myself, James is talking to all who call God Father and Jesus their Savior.  In the last two verses of chapter one, James talks about religion and what pure and genuine religion is.  This week's verses are James 1:26-27.
"If you claim to be religious but don't control your tongue, you are only fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.  Pure and genuine in the sight of God the father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you."
Controlling my tongue can seem like a losing battle.  In fact, James, himself, tells me in James three that no one can tame the tongue.  Yet he still speaks about the importance of our words and what we say throughout the book of James.   If you spend anytime in Proverbs, Solomon has a lot to say about the words that come out of our mouths and how they affect our lives.  So would James ask me to do something that is impossible?  I don't think so.  

Part of the problem is that I don't try to control our tongue.  I use the excuse it can't be tamed. I forget the power of God within me and that I need to be quick to listen and slow to speak.  I let my emotions take control instead of God's spirit.  As a teacher and a mother, I use a lot of words which gives me a lot of opportunity to mess up.  It is something I will alway struggle with but that doesn't mean I need to give up.  My daily prayer is that God will guide that words that come out of my mouth.  I also pray that the words I type whether here or on Facebook or email will be pleasing to Him.  

Verse 26 is a good reminder of how serious controlling my tongue is.  What I say reflects what I believe.  What I say shows what I am like on the inside.  What I say can draw people closer or farther away from God.  Looking back at my time as a teacher, I see times where I hurt my witness as a child of God.  I regret the words I said and even though I have asked for forgiveness, I can not take those words back.   In the last few years, I have really worked on this area and by the grace of God, I feel like I am doing better.  One resource that really helped me was Lysa Terkuest book Unglued.   Another resource is my children.  They are good at letting me know when I am out of line either through their words or expressions.  

The next verse, verse 27, is great bridge between chapter one and chapter two of James.  It caps off chapter one after James has reminded his reader to be quick to listen, to not just listen but obey, and to watch our tongues.  James gives two characteristics of pure and genuine religion in the sight of God.  The first characteristic is caring for widows and orphans in their distress.  The second is refusing to the let the world corrupt you.  Then it leads into chapter 2 where we are told not to show favoritism.  

The last few years I have struggled with the first characteristic of pure and genuine religion.  It is so easy with all the ladies who come to my door to harden my heart to their need.  Do I see them as inconvenience or someone God is sending my way to love on?   I am learning to listen to God's leading and be ready for what He has for me in these opportunities.  I am thankful for a friend who does great with these ladies.   She knows their stories and their needs.   Often I will give to these ladies though her.  She knows who needs it the most, and it makes the gift more anonymous.   My prayer is that my eyes will be open to the widows and orphans that He sends my way. 

The last characteristic of pure and genuine religion is refusing to let the word corrupt you.  What am I believing that is from the world and not from God?  Does it have to do with my self image? Or what is success?  Or how I should spend my time?  There is a battle going on for our mind.  I think Romans 12:2 says it best on how best to win that battle.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This post has taken me a few days to write partly because these verses have so much in them and also because I want them to change me.   I don't want to stay where I am.  In September, I return to Central Asia and hope to hit the ground running living in the strength and guidance of God's spirit.  

Dear God, Be with my tongue.  May I be quick to listen.  Slow to speak.  Slow to get angry.  May I take every thought captive.  Help me not to conform to the pattern of this world but to renew my mind every day through time with you and your word.  Show me how to best help the widows and orphans where I live.  What is it you want me to do?  Help me to refuse to be corrupted by the world.  May your thoughts be my thoughts and your words my words.  In Jesus name, Amen