When It’s Hard to Find Your Bearings

A few weeks ago during the NCAA basketball tournament I watched a post-game interview with North Carolina’s coach, Roy Williams, and his star ball-handler, Joel Berry.

The game had been pretty harry. As a huge fan of North Carolina I watched with my hands over my eyes, peeking between my fingers, as my Tar Heels almost gave the game away to Arkansas in the second round.

“Joel, how did you manage to take control of the game at the end of the second half when Arkansas had your team against the ropes?” the reporter asked.

“It was tough. We were struggling as a team and nothing seemed to be working until Coach told me to just get lost. He said, go out there and get lost in the game and do what you know how to do. And that’s what I did, and thankfully we were able to come away with a win.”

Get lost in the game…

Do what you know how to do…

When I heard this I loved it! And I claimed these words as my own.

For weeks I’ve been caught up and a little bit lost in hundreds of decisions concerning the home building project Mr. Wonderful and I started this January.

Flooring, faucets, paint colors, lights, appliances, trim… the list of details seems endless. And while I have loved every minute of this long awaited process my writing has been put on hold until this part of the project is finished.

Now, with our list of selections turned into our builder I’m free to start writing again but I’m struggling to find my bearings. It’s been weeks since I’ve blogged or worked on my story and it’s hard to know where to start. I’m excited and scared and nervous and why does it seem like the first steps are always the hardest?

And again, the words of Coach Williams ring in my mind and my heart. Becoming more than just the words of a beloved coach, they’ve adopted the voice of King Jesus.

Just go out there and get lost…

Do what you know how to do…

When I was growing up I took years and years of piano lessons. I loved the music and the notes and played my favorites, Canon in D and Fur Elise, over and over again. The times that were the sweetest were the moments when I got lost in the music. While my fingers kept playing notes…notes that had become an extension of me…my mind wandered far away and the music somehow kept flowing. Without even thinking about what I was doing the music turned into magic, a spell of my own creation.

Moments like these never ceased to amaze me and it was for moments like these that I kept trying, and failing, and learning, and playing.

Now writing is the magic I covet, and as I look to dive back into to my world of words and stories I know the only real way to do it successfully is to let myself get lost.

Get lost in the words…

Get lost in the story…

And do what I know how to do…

In music, in writing, in life.

 In all things good and noble and worth the doing.

 Sometimes we just have to get lost before we find our way.

For When You Just Want to Shut Down and Stop Your Heart from Bleeding

 

Tarheel PinA few weeks ago I posted a blog about what to do when your life feels like a March Madness buzzer beater and you’re on the losing team. Little did I know this was just the fate that would soon befall my beloved UNC Tarheels.

For anyone not into the drama of college basketball and the NCAA tournament, last Monday the University of North Carolina went head to head against Villanova in the championship game. With just seconds left on the clock Carolina’s Marcus Paige made an epic three point shot to tie the game and force what everyone thought would be an overtime square off.

But it wasn’t to be.

As the last tenths of a second ticked away Villanova’s Kris Jenkins shot a game winning three pointer destroying hopes and dreams of a UNC victory.

Going from the ultimate college basketball high to the ultimate low I watched my favorite players leave the court looking stunned, distraught, and dejected; my feelings, tumultuous as they were, surely only a fraction of what they were feeling.

To say the least it was heartbreaking.

Now I know the world of college basketball and all that transpires in the throws of March Madness is small cookies compared to the battles taking place in the real world. It’s a micro issue, respectively, but even still it stirs the hearts of those invested. I know it rattled mine.

And if nothing else, it has served this week as a reminder to me of a truth that matters in all of life’s battles both big and small:

Those who love deeply, hurt deeply. 

 

It happens all the time, the temptation to save your skin and your heart from pain. To check out, give up, ignore, don’t look, don’t touch, don’t feel. Don’t listen, don’t see, invest, get involved. Don’t go deeper. Don’t be real. And for heaven’s sake don’t let yourself be vulnerable. Because pain is always involved when you give your heart away. 

All day Monday I fought a subtle urge to not even watch the game. If they lose, I thought, I don’t want to see it. The disappointment that would cause the players…Coach Roy…me… would just be too unbearable.

But that game? That game! And, yeah, I got burned in the end…But how could I miss that game? 

When you find yourself hurting deeply, take heart! It means you loved deeply. And what has the Savior shown us about life but that loving deeply is the only way to really and truly live? 

All the things we love, the big and the small, it matters! It matters to Him. It matters to the story of your life.

When you start to get that feeling, that temptation to stop right there, to go no further, to look away, stop and think for a minute. Don’t just think about what you want to avoid, imagine what you’ll miss by shutting down your heart:

That relationship

That sunrise

That victory

That wholeness

That health

That smile

Laughter

Kisses

Welcome home hugs

Knowing what you’re made of

Knowing what He’s made of

Knowing what forgiveness feels like 

A life with as few regrets as possible

For all my Carolina dreams of winning the national championship, for all life’s battles both big and small, for all the deeply hurting, perhaps Garth Brooks said it best in the words of his classic song: 

“And now

I”m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end

The way it all would go

Our lives

Are better left to chance

I could have missed the pain

But I’d have had to miss

The dance” *

Lean in. Invest. Be open. Stay open. Stay. In. The. Pool. Be you. Be real. Give your heart away. Give your heart to Him.

And whatever you, no matter what, don’t abandon the big dance for the sake of all the madness.

No, grab your Cinderella slippers and linger after midnight.

*Lyrics from The Dance by Tony Arata

For When the Season You’re in seems Desolate and Void of Love

Winter 8While reading the other day I came across this quote by Celia Thaxter:

“There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.”

Liking it, I texted it to my friend with the following question: Can I have an eternal fall and winter in mine?

I’m sure she rolled her eyes. She knows how much I adore the fall with its pretty leaves, rosy-cheek breezes, and pumpkin spiced everything. But winter? She, and pretty much everyone else I know, can’t understand the crazy obsession I have for this cold, dreary, never-ending season.

 Our conversation continued:

Her: Not winter!

Me: But I love it!

Her: But it’s desolate and void of love. 

Green LeavesI get it! Winter is hard especially here in Michigan. Winter means you can’t go outside without pain. It means you (and your kiddos) are stuck inside for months on end. It means constant shoveling, tedious driving, and dealing with ice and snow.

Winter means days and days on end when sunshine is scarce and pretty much everything you look at is colorless, dead, and gray. 

And for my friend, the season of life she’s in is kind of like winter too. Hard things are happening in her work and her family. People she loves have betrayed her. Right now there’s no end in sight.

Despite all of this when I read her response something in me snapped. I had this sudden conviction, this knowing with all my heart that her words, no matter how right they seemed, simply weren’t true. 

Lake MIWhich is why I wrote: Oh no! Winter is full of love and far from desolate. Think of all those bulbs in the ground, in the dark just waiting to bloom. I was thinking about it this morning, how beauty and transformation and miracles always start in a dark place. So is winter desolate? I don’t think so. It’s full of life just waiting to happen. And as for love? Think of “Jen” snow! Of icicles shining in sunshine. Of how good coffee tastes and feels on a cold winter morning and how snuggly warm your most favorite blanket feels at night. Each of these and millions more are God saying, “I love you” all winter long.

Jen snow? Yes, I love the falling flakes so much my friends have coined a name for it.

At any rate, this was my knee jerk response to her comment, but I can’t stop thinking about it. About the life and the love that happens even in desolate seasons.

Snowy PumpkinIn seasons that seem like they’re void of warmth and all things good.

In seasons when life is hard, and cold, and dark. When we’re forced to wait for sunshine, to wait for spring to come.

In seasons when we feel all alone as though the ones we love…as though the One we love…has abandoned us.

I’ve lived these winters. I’m watching my friend live one now and I hope she can know what I know. I hope she can see and feel and experience the life and the love that’s still there. That’s happening all around her.

In the dark, in the hard, in the terribly lonely, life IS waiting to bloom. Love IS calling your name.

AmarilysOn my kitchen windowsill an amaryllis bulb my family was given for Christmas reaches just a little bit more for the sun each day, a reminder that spring is coming.

A perfect gift for those in the middle of winter.

How to Make Your Canvas, Your New Year, Your Life, a Masterpiece

Nativity 2Sheldon Rhodes had had enough. After 40 years of children’s ministry he was tired of people mistaking his home and Jest Kidding headquarters in Nashville, MI as some kind of daycare center.

Something had to change. Something about his property needed to proclaim God and his glory, needed to show anyone and everyone driving by what he, his wife, Vicky, and their ministry were all about.

The seed had been planted years ago. While visiting a church in Niagara Falls, New York, Sheldon and Vicky became aware that the church was doing a live nativity display. In years to come they watched this display become a beacon drawing people from miles around to come and see the Christmas story as they’d never seen it before.

Camel 2AngelA dream was lodged in their hearts, a vision to someday use their home and ministry headquarters to declare God’s glory not just at Christmas but all the year through.

On a December afternoon in 2013 Sheldon received a call from yet another person inquiring after his supposed daycare center. It was the last straw and perhaps a providential one.

A few days later on Christmas Eve he went to bed but couldn’t sleep. His mind kept thinking of ideas, of ways he could transform his home, his yard, his driveway into an epic nativity. He thought of lights, music, and scripture readings. He pictured Christmas brought to life and a drive-thru village that would tell the story from beginning to end of Jesus Christ and His love.

Christmas in July 2He saw his home and property as an empty canvas and with all his heart he wanted to use it to paint a masterpiece for God.

But how? And when? And where would they get the tools, the resources, the help they would need to make their dream a reality? It was all a little crazy wasn’t it? Could God really be in this?

On the day after Christmas Sheldon and Vicky got in their van and drove to Frakenmuth, MI home of the world’s largest Christmas store. For an entire day they roamed the aisles searching for ideas, dreaming of possibilities.

In January Sheldon shared his vision with his board of directors, and with their input and support a yearlong journey was launched.

It was a monumental task. There were setbacks, fears, and doubts but Sheldon and Vicky knew that God was with them, helping them, guiding them, supporting their plans.

Christmas In JulyChristmas in July 3Little by little God provided in many amazing ways. Expensive patterns and materials for a life-size nativity set were donated to the cause. Volunteers came in late July to prepare the grounds and other materials. Gifted painters helped to transform mere pieces of plywood into beautiful works of art.

Almost a year to date from the beginning of their venture, Sheldon and Vicky added the last piece of their nativity to their front lawn. With only days left until Christmas their vision had become a reality.

It was the end of yearlong project but it was also a beginning. With plans to keep adding to their nativity and ideas for other holidays Sheldon and Vicky can’t wait to see what God has in store.

If you were to take a drive to Nashville, MI, headed East off Hwy 66, traveling down State Rd, you’d be sure to see the Rhodes’ home and a lavish display of God’s love. It’s just what Sheldon wanted, it’s a testament to God and His glory, and it’s also a reminder to us.

Vicky Painting 2It’s a reminder that our lives, our resources, and the gifts we’ve been given are all empty canvases on which we can paint a display of God and His glory, a declaration of His love.

Seeds are planted all the time, dreams and visions of what could be. When we’re faithful with those seeds, as Sheldon has been faithful with his, there’s no limit to what God can do.

What stirs your soul? What keeps you awake when you dare to let your mind wander, when you dare to let your heart dream? Is it a life-size nativity display, a blog post, a business plan? Is it righting a wrong or fighting injustice? Is it a Saturday feeding the homeless or a home cooked meal for a tired mom?

Whatever comprises your canvas, make no mistake God is there. He’s in your vision, He’s in your dreams. He’s in your plans, your pursuits, your wonder.

Look close and you’ll see it, every time. When you step out in faith, when you work for His glory, His fingerprints, there on your canvas.

The colorful strokes of His glory turning plywood into art.

Turning everything all around into beacons of His story. Your heart, your vision, the work of your hands into the masterpiece of His love.

For more information on Sheldon’s nativity and/or Jest Kidding ministries please visit www.jestkidding.com.

Sheldon’s nativity will be on display 24/7 throughout the holiday season. Sheldon and Vicky welcome you to load up your family, take a drive, and see their display located at 10230 E. State Road, Nashville, MI, 49073.

For When You Feel Like an Underdog (Part 2)…

“When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? […] I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’” (1 Samuel 17:28)

“Saul replied, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.’” (vs. 33)

“The Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!’

For David, the voices on the sidelines were loud and clear.

Last week, I wrote about what to do when you feel like an underdog. (Recap here.) This week I’d like to take a closer look at Four Underdog Lessons from the story of David and Goliath.

Underdog Lesson No. 1: David Persisted

Despite the verbal attacks being hurled against him, David refused to take “no” for an answer. Instead, David kept asking, seeking, persisting until Saul agreed to give him a chance.

When we battle against giants in our lives the best way we can be persistent is through prayer and the opportunities God provides.

Sometimes it’s easy to grow weary of seeking God through prayer but God loves for us to drive him crazy with our heartfelt desires. Likewise, when opportunities arise, it’s often easy to shy away in fear, to procrastinate, to talk ourselves out of the battle and into our comfort zone.

This is exactly what the enemy is after.

Don’t waste the weapon of prayer, and don’t waste the opportunities you’re given. Ask. Seek. Persist. When we are faithful in prayer and faithful with our opportunities, God is faithful to us.

Underdog Lesson No. 2: David Relied On His Training and His Past

When David went before Saul to ask permission to fight Goliath he built his case on his experience as a shepherd. On more than one occasion David had willingly fought with lions and bears. With each encounter he skillfully defeated the wild beasts. David felt confident that if God could rescue him from the paws of a lion or the claws of a bear, He could rescue him from Goliath too.

God is always at work in our lives, molding us, preparing us, training us in ways we may not realize. When the time comes to face a giant, God never sends us into battle unprepared.

Even in times when we don’t feel confident in our abilities, God is there, and we can find confidence in our Him. By looking to ways God has rescued us in the past we can find ourselves assured that He will come through for us again.

God is mighty to save. He loves to rescue us. No one fights for underdogs more than He does.

Underdog Lesson No. 3: David Removed That Which Encumbered Him

I think this is my favorite part of the whole story. Saul has just given his consent to let the shepherd boy face the giant. He gives David his armor, his sword. David tries them on. He walks around. “I cannot go in these,” he says to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” (vs. 39)

Taking the armor off, David opts for five smooth stones and sling. By removing that which encumbered, David remained true to himself and the skills God had given him.  

Consider the giants in your life. What’s hindering you from the victory you desire? Is there something you need to remove, take off, get free from? Is there someone or something else you’re trying to be?

Follow David’s example. Remove what you can. Be the person God designed you to be. Hold tight to your sling.

Underdog Lesson No. 4: David Spoke Boldly In the Name of God

“David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, who you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.’” (vs. 45-47)

These words are mighty. These words have the power to move heaven and earth. These words are one hundred percent as potent and powerful for us as they were for David.

The battles we face aren’t about swords and javelins. They aren’t limited to what we can see, hear, and touch. The battles we face are as much spiritual as they are physical…sometimes more so. The power of the spoken word is our weapon against spiritual forces, against the giants we can’t see, against Satan and his lies.

When giants taunt and spew their lies, when Satan attacks, fight back with words, with prayer, with scripture. Claim God’s promises. Speak boldly in His name. Use David’s speech if you have to.

When all was said and done, David ran toward the giant, and so can we.

When giants tower before us…

When Satan lurks around us…

  • Be persistent
  • Rely on God’s work in your life; Your training and His faithfulness
  • Remove all encumbrances and be who you were born to be
  • Speak bold words that call on God
  • Remember that He is with you

Don’t run away in fear. Run into the battle. Claim your victory. Stand your ground.

And watch the giant fall.