Weeding Wisely to Increase Joy

I spent most of the day outside, tending my herb and flower garden while my 3 year old played nearby.

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It’s warm enough now to plant, so I bought a few herbs to replace several that didn’t survive the winter: parsley, mint, and basil. I spent hours pulling weeds and showing Brayden how to find and eliminate them.

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Among the herbs, I also added pansies (a favorite of mine), freesia, pink flowering ornamental strawberries, and violets.

While I worked, I listened to my Bible App (Hebrews) and also enjoyed a podcast.

I also tried my hand this week at propagating roses for our yard. Though there are detailed YouTube videos on how to do this, you basically cut a piece of new growth under a leaf node off at a 45 degree angle, dip it in water for a minute, scrape the outer layer of the stem off with the side of scissors, dip it into rooting hormone, and place it in a cup full of potting soil or perlite. It is then misted with water until moistened and placed in a ziplock bag to make a small greenhouse environment for each plant. They’ll require misting every few days and in 6 weeks, roots should form. I’m very excited about the possibility of propagating some of my grandmother’s roses and bringing them to my yard. I have a bleeding heart bush from my husband’s childhood home that I propagated using root cuttings and it makes me smile whenever I see it. There’s something satisfying about connecting times and places and people through flowers and conservation.

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Whenever I garden, I’m reminded of how much it parallels life. Jesus used gardening terms when he taught: branches connected to the Vine, sowing, reaping, various types of soil and ground, broadcasting seed, mustard seed sized faith, plants thriving near rivers of water, and the life of the godly being compared to watered garden.

Especially as I pull weeds, I’m reminded that so many areas of life need to be removed in order to make room for what is truly life-giving. Weeds easily overtake and crowd out those aspects of life that bring beauty, nourish your soul, and feed and heal your body.

Weeds will choke out your joy if you’re not alert. “The cares of this world.” It’s a slow creep, barely noticeable. Weeds crowd and steal space and use necessary oxygen.

We may need to weed out busyness where we’ve over-committed and run ahead of God. We may need to plant ourselves still before Him so we can worship.

We may need to weed out the hidden-in-plain-sight sin that has so entangled us that we believe it’s just part of our DNA –who we are.  We may need to plant the Word before our eyeballs and meditate on Truth in order to get back on the righteous path.

We may need to weed out friendships that are mediocre or toxic, or worldly influences that are not honoring God nor helping us thrive spiritually. We may need to plant ourselves with godly friends, older women, and those who are doing right and acknowledging God in all their ways.

We may need to turn off the noise, the social media, the books, the TV, the hobbies, the chatter that steals our attention from the One who truly deserves our undivided devotion. We may need to rearrange our time so that God gets the first fruits.

Weeding is tedious, hard stuff, but it makes space for the crop that you want to harvest in the end.

Saying no to one is saying yes to another. Weeding wisely increases your success and your joy.

Summer is right around the corner, and I want to challenge you to do some weeding so your life can flourish and grow with grace.

Might you have a few weeds to pull? Ask:

  • What is sinful, ungracious, and unlovely?
  • What is hindering me from following God and pursuing His best?
  • What is keeping me from loving others first and best?
  • What is weighing me down?
  • Where am I easily offended and where does Satan enjoy tripping me up time and time again?
  • Where am I easily angered and frustrated? Again, where does Satan keep me defeated by pushing my buttons?
  • What friendship leaves me depleted? Which one is not based on mutual respect and edification?

To purposefully plant, ask:

  • Lord, what do you have for me in your Word today?
  • Lord, where is my first circle of influence and what jobs have you assigned only to me? How can I be most influential there?
  • Where is God burdening me to act?
  • Who needs my kindness today?
  • What is God teaching me through this thing?
  • What virtue is the Holy Spirit asking me to put on?
  • Which friendships refresh and encourage me? Which friendships are based on mutual respect? Whose life points me to Christ?

I hope these questions help you to navigate the maze of your own heart and encourage you to seek the important and eternal aspects of life that will bring you joy.

Have a lovely week tending the garden of your heart and hearth,

Sarah

“I am enough” and other lies Christian women believe.

The church seems to be confused about the concept of truth.

We say we believe the truth, but I believe we’ve been conditioned by our culture to think that it is more educated/enlightened/accepting to believe that my truth is as relevant as yours.

Just believe what you want. Believe in yourself if you want. Who am I to criticize your truth? If we each have our own truth then there is not truth or right or wrong.

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In Christian circles, I see confusion everywhere: from the books pumped out of Christian publishing houses, to the bloggers we follow. When they deviate from the Bible, we’re quick to write it off as a misunderstanding or just “their experience”, when in reality they are breaking rank with Scripture and we are giving them a thumbs up as the world watches on. Recently a big name blogger divorced her husband and married another woman. Instead of grieving this woman’s vow-breaking and disobedience, Christians bought in to her “journey” as though that was the ultimate thing. Some jumped on board and applauded her because she’s happier now, when women who know God’s word should be grieving that yet another public figure tossed obedience aside for desire.

This is a silly example, but Christians memes filled with error are EVERYWHERE.

This morning, scrolling through my FB feed was this meme: “I am enough.” It was from a Christian page. Christian women were liking and affirming this feel-good three-word statement. But the meme is not true from a Christian’s worldview. What’s the problem with “I am enough” you ask? We’ll, obviously, if I were enough, I didn’t need Christ and he died in vain. If I were enough I could have saved myself and taken care of all my own need in my self-sufficiency. God’s Word teaches the absolute opposite– that I was so lacking in EVERY area, morally and spiritually destitute, it was like I was a dead corpse, and Christ reached down to help me. No, I am not enough and neither are you, and people who believe they are enough will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, as it is only for those who recognize their utter spiritual poverty as detailed in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt.5:3) (Good news & spoiler alert: Christ is enough.)

We’ve elevated feelings and demoted God’s Word as a take it or leave it smorgasbord.

Are you uncomfortable with the word “truth”? The church is called the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

Do you relate to Pontius Pilate who mused, “What is truth?”

“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus claims to be THE Truth.

Truth is an indisputable fact. It’s reality. Truth transcends culture and time.

As Christians, we’re commanded to speak the truth in love, but do we understand what this means?

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

 

The verse doesn’t say to speak YOUR truth. Many like to imagine that this verse is their straight-up mandate to vent all.their.feelings, and let you know everything that you EVER did to them that they didn’t like about you. That might be speaking your truth but, just to set the record straight, it’s not speaking the truth. It’s having no filter. So, NO, you shouldn’t tell Sally that she really should lose some weight or let Jane know that you don’t approve of the length of the skirt she’s wearing.

Speaking truth is to edifying another believer towards Christian maturity by promoting Scripture as TRUTH that can be depended upon. It’s to promote sound doctrine and to build up a discouraged (or even sinful) believer with the promises of God’s faithfulness.

It looks like this:

“I know you’re discouraged that you used your tongue in a less than gracious way again, Sally, but God is faithful to forgive us when we ask and He’s promised to give us a way to escape the temptation if we look to Him. Why don’t you just ask Him to forgive you and return to Him?”

“Yes, this heartache seems unbearable, Jane,  but God is the God who is near to the Brokenhearted, so He is right here with you.”

“I know it’s disappointing when people don’t respect you, but ultimately humility is a place where we can embrace the lowly mindset of Christ. Could this be another opportunity to kill pride and become more like Christ?”

In Alive in Him, Gloria Furman, states it this way:

“Speaking the truth in love” has…everything to do with building up someone else with good doctrine in a loving manner. Solid doctrine is our building material, love is our disposition, and maturity in Christ is our aim.” pg.117

“Truthing solid doctrine with each other wars against our flesh while it strengthens our souls. If a toe gets stubbed, the whole leg smarts, and the body walks with a limp. Ephesians teaches us that the ascended, victorious Christ is creating in himself one new man of which we are a part…every member, then, is a minister to every other member.” p.117

Sometimes speaking truth means that over my dead body will you go this direction while I remain silent.

Do we feel all “weird-ed out” to hold anyone to a biblical standard of truth even as Christians? It’s risky, isn’t it? Because often times Christians are offended when other believers hold them to the Biblical standard by which they claim to live.

We have to also speak up when truth is trampled by erring Christian teachers who are not discernible from the world. God’s grace is bringing us toward’s greater goodness and holiness every day, my friends, and we have to expect that pursuit from the people we look to for leadership.

In 1875, when Hannah Whitall Smith penned a book entitled The Christian’s Secret to A Happy Life, it became an instant best seller, well before the days of the internet or celebrity blogger. She was a big ticket and her success set her up as a prominent speaker on the “higher life” idea of Christian victory. People bought into it and sought her out.

Behind the scenes though, there was a huge disconnect between what she wrote and what she lived. Her personal life was a total mess. In 25 Surprising Marriages, William Peterson recalls the unhappy nature of her marriage to her husband, Robert. He traveled a lot, leaving her alone and they fought. He accused her of being a cold, frigid wife. Her journal reveals that she doubted God, especially after the death of her little boy, and years later she described herself as an agnostic. The year her book was published was also the year her husband had to step out of ministry for adultery/infidelity. The year she wrote another book about child raising (1894) was the same year her younger daughter married atheist Bertrand Russell. And her older daughter left her husband and two children for an artist.

My point is not to glory in Hannah’s failure’s. Not at all. But to warn that though she wrote this:

 If we are to walk as Christ walked, it must be in private as well as in public, at home as well as abroad. It must be every hour all day long, and not at stated periods or on certain fixed occasions. We must be Christlike everywhere and to all. It is in daily living that practical holiness can best show itself, and we may well question any “professions” that fail under this test of daily life. An anxious Christian, a discouraged, gloomy Christian, a doubting Christian, a complaining Christian, an exacting Christian, a selfish Christian, a cruel, hard-hearted Christian, a self-indulgent Christian, a Christian with a sharp tongue or bitter spirit, may be a very earnest worker and have an honorable place in the Church. But, he or she is not a Christlike Christian, and knows nothing of the lessons of this book concerning the higher Christian life.

her life was different behind the scenes. Did her reader’s catch that in her book? Did they overlook it?

I have to ask myself how someone with so much knowledge of scripture, and with a vibrant public ministry like Hannah’s, with the wherewithal to write the above excerpt could have turned away from God?

What truth did she deny? What truth are we denying? Where are we skeptics when God’s Word has spoken it as truth?

Do we believe that God is who He says He is?

If so, what responsibility do we have to His Word?

Are we living as though God’s Word is Truth?

EVERY word of every book, teacher, pastor, speaker, blogger, should be examined through the sieve of Scripture to see if it aligns with the Truth.

Every thought and motive in my own heart should be tested as well, to see where it stands.

Often we have to peel back the layers of our own thoughts, words, fears, emotions, to see the lies that are buried in our own hearts that we are holding on to as Gospel Truth.

If we want to be women of the Word, we have to KNOW the Bible inside and out. We have to read it. A lot. We have to let it infiltrate our mind and change our pre-conceived notions.

“Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.”

Then we need to meditate on what it says. “What does it say and mean?” Simple questions. “What am I doing about this information? Am I living this truth?”

Don’t read for knowledge’s sake. Read to obey.

And please, please, don’t confuse interest in the knowledge of Biblical things with being teachable by the Holy Spirit. A teachable heart is pliable to the truth of God’s word.

“All you have said, we will do.”

“Sanctify (set them apart) with thy truth. Thy word is truth.”

I’m praying for you this week as you get into your Bible. If you have little kids in the house like I do, I know it’s hard to make this happen. I have to set aside time every day to read or it doesn’t magically happen. Five minutes is better than nothing so don’t let time restraints keep you from even a little. Put your Bible in a prominent place, like the kitchen counter so you can glance at it on your way by or when you have a free minute to stir your soup. I know you know all this already, but I wanted to encourage you today to put away any distractions that would keep you from getting into God’s Word. It’s not something that’s celebrated in the world, so I want to cheer you on as you learn to love and value God and His Word a little more each day.

Praying for you as we seek Him together and believe HIS Truth.

Sarah

Two books I’m loving on the calling of motherhood

I don’t quite remember the first time I felt self-conscious and embarrassed when I told someone I was a full-time housewife and mother, but I’ve had lots of experience with that feeling to date. Mostly feelings of inadequacy and second-guessing what I was doing with my life.

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It usually plays out something like this:

“So what do you do for a living?”

“I stay home and take care of my kids.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”—subject change needed because, WHATEVER. “Err…Where do your kids go to school?”

“We actually home school them.”

“What does your husband do for work?”

“He works at a church full-time as the youth pastor/business administrator.”

Crickets.

If you’re a stay at home mom, you know the stigma. We do nothing all day. We’re wasting our life. We’re wasting our talent.

Thankfully as I’ve aged, I don’t care about the current feminist rhetoric du jour and I’m more comfortable with my own choices. As I look around at the landscape of our troubled society, one thing is clear: people need to be cared for and children need guidance like never before, plain and simple. Who better to pour your life into than your own cherished husband, children, extended family, neighbors, and church?

I’ve been reading two books on calling that have resonated with me. The first one that I’m reviewing is entitled Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God, a book about our stay-at-home work and re-thinking the value of it. Courtney Reissig says,

“What I’ve learned is that God is glorified in the mundane work as much as he is in the magnificent.” (Kindle loc. 171)

“You image God uniquely when you work. You tell a story to the world about his goodness and glory through your work.” (loc. 234)

“We take the good things that God has given us (work, the home, etc.) and make them seem pointless. But for those in Christ, the futility of the ordinary chores isn’t the end of the story. Our work is meant to be a means of loving God through loving our neighbors, so the greatest love we can show them (even the neighbors in our own home), is to bring some sense of order in a broken and chaotic world. Sometimes this looks like opening your home to a friend who is weary and sometimes it looks like disinfecting the whole house after a stomach bug makes its way through.”

The chapter on imaging God by preparing and providing food for the people at your table really inspired me. We think of Jesus teaching and preaching, but the Bible shows Him eating and drinking with his friends and feeding His own manna, fish, milk and honey and more.

I’m also making my way through a gut-wrenching book written by a woman who has fostered over 100 children, Another Place at the Table which shows the devastating results of children who are *not* cared for and end up in the foster care system. It’s not for the faint of heart and as you can imagine. It is riddled with stories of physical and sexual abuse. It’s heartbreaking and convicting and inspiring and maddening all at the same time. It makes me want to care for my own and then some and has made me thank God for the service I can do for Him that come disguised as mundane and thankless jobs.

It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of comparing ourselves to others. But it’s imperative to know that the only thing that matters is the job that God has called us to.

If you are a mother, God has given you children to lead and guide. So much of what we do behind the scenes impacts generations. Our integrity in the home is no small matter and our kids pick up on our attitudes. These verses from Psalm 106 always convict me:

“They forgot God, their Savior…then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise. They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord.” (21a,24,25)

These verses remind me that forgetting God leads to discontentment in our place and with His provisions and plans, which leads to complaining–which God hears, even when it’s in the quiet of our own house where we think nobody hears.

If you get a chance to read Glory in the Ordinary, I think you’ll really enjoy it. It will help you as you care for your home and family. Let me know if you pick it up.

 

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links at no cost to you. I get a small kick back when you purchase through these links. Thanks for supporting this blog.

 

For when you are not okay

Summer awakens my senses. After a cold New England winter, the warmth of the softened ground gives way to growth and I love everything about it. The smell of freshly cut grass, the sounds of Katydids and frogs in the pond on summer nights, the smell of sunscreen and salt water as we watch the ocean crash wildly in front of us. It soothes, mentally and physically.

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I’ve been alive long enough to know that some seasons are like this, full of robust growth. Kids are thriving, I am thriving. Life lessons sink in deep with grace. My inner man is aware of God. My heart is rooted in His word, grounded in truth, and the fruit is evident. Change is happening and I know it.

But other seasons, wilderness seasons, are different. Growth is hard. Appetites are dull. Senses seem unaware. Hearts are numb. Trouble abounds. The inner man is cold and soil of the heart un-tillable. Nobody seems to learn their lessons. Everyone is hurting and out of sorts. Life is plodded through instead of lived alive and joyfully, and getting through the day is the main goal.

Many of my friends are RIGHT NOW in the midst of trials, and it breaks my heart to know they are hurting. We can all struggle for a while and be “okay”, but when the struggle lasts for years on end, we get worn thin and depleted. Though I can’t write about specifics (nor would I) I am sobered by their pain, knowing we will all go through unbearable heartache at some point in our life. Sometimes husbands don’t pan out to be the knight in shining armor we married. Sometimes church members act dumb and hurt others. Kids rebel and make life altering choices. Health leaves. Money is short. Resources sparse. Sometimes people never change. Or maybe our own loved one is self-destructing and there’s nothing we can do about it.

For all my friends who are hurting and struggling, who are going through tough seasons and are basically non-existent emotionally, I hope this post is encouraging to you. Nobody wants to hurt or be depressed, and it’s torture when you know you just “aren’t right” and don’t want to be this way. What now?

I know you don’t want to feel this way. You are usually “fully alive” and this season is wearing you down.

For my friend who just recently told me that she doesn’t really desire anything right now,

and for the lady who wrote that her faith is wavering,

and for anyone out there who is waking up to their own foolishness and realizing that your own actions landed you in the place you are,

and for the woman who has been numb so long that she’s wondering if she’ll ever come through the hurt,

can I just encourage you to hang on a little while longer and to stop adding to your grief by beating yourself up for being human? To stop assuming that your grief is not okay with God, as though sorrow and mourning and downright lamentation is some sort of sin?

Can you believe me for a minute when I tell you that God was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and that the brokenness of this life is sometimes just plain overwhelming?

Can you trust me when I say God is still good even when our life seems to be in disarray?

Can you believe that your performance didn’t matter before and He’s not disappointed in you or your situation now?

Can you hang on just a while longer to the fact that Jesus loves you first and best and longest and forever? That He’s always faithful even when we are faithless and faltering?

Can I just say that emotional dullness is part of life?

And can we all just admit that our culture’s “get over it”–grit your teeth and just move on–mentality is not helpful when you are truly hurting?

Remember, we are physical and spiritual beings. and feelings aren’t facts. Wilderness times are not always things we can control and obviously, these times are not always because of something we’ve done. However, even if you are where you are because of your own foolishness, please remember that in Christ, you are justified, which means that God looks on you and sees Christ, and that’s good news because it’s as if you’ve always obeyed His Word.

Can you just hope in the nature and character of God a little longer and realize that He’s going to hold you until this is over?

I’m so sorry you are struggling. I wish I could sit with you in your grief. I don’t have much else to say except to point you to Christ and the verses that help me when I am discouraged and fearful.

When you feel like God doesn’t care:

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me. 

Isaiah 49:14-16

When you feel stuck:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
 He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40:1-3

When you feel like giving up:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;

though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.

Ps. 37:23,24

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

 

When you feel like God doesn’t like you

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:10-12

When you self-justify and fall short:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Romans 4:4-5

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Romans 8:33-34

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Heb. 4:16

On a practical level, these are some things that have helped me during times of discouragement or heartache. They may or may not help you. Take or leave what you will.

  • getting extra rest or extra exercise, depending on how I feel.
  • eating healthy, small meals.
  • setting aside time to visit a friend.
  • purposefully slowing down to notice life around you: the smell of your child’s hair, listening to the noises of nature, watching the sunset or waves at the beach, feeling the warm water as you wash dishes.
  • doing something you enjoy at the moment. Antiquing, crafting, baking, drawing.
  • praying. When we pray, our voices go straight to the ears of God. It’s comforting to know that He hears our heart.
  • helping others. It always helps to cheer someone else up.
  • listening to Scripture, especially the Psalms. You’ll find lots of true prayer about every sort of struggle, and you’ll be refreshed as you see the Psalmist hope in God in his trouble.
  • meditate on one verse at a time.

I’m praying for you today. When you are weak, He is strong on your behalf. Rest in Him.

I am mad so I bake a cake. {A Few Thoughts on the Unthinkable going on in Syria}

I wasn’t planning to write today so I’m putting this out here as a stream of consciousness, unedited and imperfect. Forgive my mistakes, but…

I’ve been thinking about the horrific attack of life in Syria–the hopelessness those poor people must be feeling after realizing that their own government forever changed their life with violence. Senseless violence. Wickedness. Murder. Chemicals used on children. 27 of them. Innocents assaulted and killed. Children of God, made in His image. Imagine how the injustice of this must anger God and fly in the face of His mercy and love. One man lost 25 members of his family. I can’t imagine the pain. Father, forgive me when I complain.

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I was convicted when I woke this morning and saw the news.

You see, I’ve been frustrated and tired. We’re in a pattern of sleepless nights over here again, our foster child waking at 2:30 am pretty consistently and crying on the hour. Sometimes until 5 am. Sometimes he comes into bed with us. Other night he screams and I rock him. This is hard and I don’t know why he’s doing it. I’m wondering if there’s emotional problems I can’t reach or fix. I’m focusing on the what ifs. I’m not counting this all joy.

My ordinary life–my hard day–is nothing to complain about. There are 27 mothers somewhere in Syria who would give anything to be up at night just one more time with their child. They’d love the chance to try to problem solve for their little one.

I asked God to give me eyes to see the big picture through bleary eyes and weak body.

I prayed for those mothers. Won’t you pray for them, too? I wondered what I could do today when the problem is so huge and the struggle seems so impossible.

I instinctively start to clean and make the home cozy. A magazine here, fluff the pillows and add a throw blanket there. I light a candle, bake a cake.

I recall hearing someone somewhere say, “In times of tragedy, create beauty”–or something along those lines.

I’ve thought of this advice after the death of a loved one, or whenever life seems hopeless. I find myself wanting to create order out of disorder. I suppose that to some extent, it’s a way to imitate our Creator.

Creating beauty and a peaceful environment is like a silent resistance–a refusal to be overcome by the evil or defeated by the spirit of hopelessness. For the artist at heart, creating beauty is a way to deal with grief, and giving art is an offering of healing and friendship to the recipient, whether it’s a handwritten note, baked good, watercolor, fist full of wildflowers, or musical piece.

When my niece Addy had her super risky surgery two years back, I painted this piece: Teach us to Number our Days.

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When my grandfather died, my daughter Rebekah wrote this 3 part violin arrangement of Be Still My Soul (Finlandia) for her and her sisters to play for him one last time at his funeral. Beauty born in the middle of grief.

Some of the most amazing music has been born out of grief. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, (Adagio) was played in Berlin during the RAF bombing and the orchestra continued playing until the end. You can hear it here or purchase the original recording here, digitally remastered so you can still hear the bombs in the background. I highly recommend you listen.

French composer, Oliver Massiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time was composed and performed in a concentration camp on an old, out of tune, upright piano in the winter of January 1941. The piece can be heard on YouTube here (I especially love the V movement: Praise to the Eternity of Jesus. 20:15 in the recording.) and more about how he obtained paper from the guards, and worked with other musicians in the camp barracks and the performance can be found here.

If you are overwhelmed today, realize that our soul knows that this world is broken and we all wait and long for Eternity.

Perhaps create something beautiful for the sake of your children, husband, friend, or even yourself.

Tell someone you love them. Set a table for tea. Light a candle. Love others well. Pray for those who do the unthinkable and those who are bearing injustice. Wait patiently for Him. Do not be overcome with darkness. Walk in the light.

Waiting is your calling. Waiting is your blessing. Every one of God’s children has been chosen to wait, because every one of God’s children lives between the “already” and the “not yet.” Already this world has been broken by sin, but not yet has it been made new again. Already Jesus has come, but not yet has he returned to take you home with him forever. Already your sin has been forgiven, but not yet have you been fully delivered from it. Already Jesus reigns, but not yet has his final kingdom come. Already sin has been defeated, but not yet has it been completely destroyed. Already the Holy Spirit has been given, but not yet have you been perfectly formed into the likeness of Jesus. Already God has given you his Word, but not yet has it totally transformed your life. Already you have been given grace, but not yet has that grace finished its work. You see, we’re all called to wait because we all live right smack dab in the middle of God’s grand redemptive story. We all wait for the final end of the work that God has begun in and for us.” Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies

Does Jesus Satisfy and Is He Enough?

What to do you value above all else? What rules your thoughts, retains your affections, has your undying loyalty, and warrants your precious energy?

Why does this matter?

Because what you are passionate about– what you believe is worthy of your devotion and effort–at its core, is where you put your hope.

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Easter and the message of the cross, and the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, and I have to ask myself this:

If I really believed that Jesus is better than anyone or anything and that he alone could satisfy, how would that transform my life?

If I believed Jesus is better:

  • my sin would lose its grip on me
  • sinful attitudes (lust of flesh, eyes, pride of life) would be repulsive to me
  • my focus would be on Christ
  • my aim would be to be his follower above all else,
  • my attitudes would reflect His,
  • my duty would be to love His children,
  • my highest goal would be to please Him in everything.

If I believed Jesus satisfied:

  • earthly pleasures would lose their charm and allurement,
  • earthly treasures would be held loosely,
  • I’d seek Him as the ultimate treasure.
  • He’s be the first person I run to when I have a need,
  • He’d be the person I’d want to spend time with,
  • my body, habits, lifestyle would reflect moderation and self-control,
  • my attitudes would be joyful, because I’ll always have my prized possession.
  • I wouldn’t seek my identity apart from Him.

The gospel is not just a teaching. The gospel is hope, healing, and life.

“The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history; it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it.” Jerry Bridges

This Easter and every day, as I look at the cross where God’s wrath for my sin was poured out in full on Jesus, I want to keep these two truths in the forefront of my mind. Jesus is Supreme and he alone satisfies.

Maybe you need this reminder, too?

I think we all need to keep these truths between our eyes because when I look around at the landscape of Christianity, I see that we’re often blind to our own sin and keen to point out others. We’ve become a joyless lot, up one minute, down the next. We’re distracted. Boy are we distracted. We have more ads, images, entertainment, temptations before our eyes than ever before. Digital candy, there to entertain and delight us one click at a time. Yes, we the church, and the church leadership, are often sinful and seeking lesser gods.

I don’t mean that we’ve stopped serving Jesus. Oh, don’t get me wrong. We’re getting it done. We’re doing ministry, but I wonder if we’re doing it God’s way–like people who have been transformed by an amazing love? People who are supplied and satisfied by God’s transforming provision?

I think we’re a lot like Moses, frustrated, all set, and I.can’t.even who struck the rock twice out of anger (dramatic much?) (Numbers 20:11) to “minister” to the thirsty, complaining children of Israel in the wilderness. We “serve the Lord” through gritted teeth and deal with His people harshly, and do ministry in self-serving ways, using our own carnal methods. We show up. We complain about how ridiculous these kids are or how nobody appreciates all we do. We strike the rock. We lead the group. We pick up his socks and close his bureau drawers completely. We complain about the brother. We gossip about the sister. We bite and devour. We one-up someone else. We compete instead of collaborate. We self-justify our anger when it all comes tumbling out. We blame others– the people God gave us–when in truth we acted upon what thought would satisfy us.

Amazingly, and scarily, the stricken rock flows pure water and the job gets done and God waters His people in spite of us.

Don’t confuse God’s provision and goodness with His blessing. We aren’t pulled out of ministry or motherhood, and by all outward appearances, things continue as normal, but we lose the blessing and we forfeit our godly influence.

God will water His people because He is good. He uses our failures to water others but “Be not deceived, God is not mocked” because our God sees our heart. You can’t hide that from Him. And He cares more about your heart purity and your relationship to Him than He cares about any outward ministry or action you could perform.

Our job is to take account of our own heart, keep close tabs on our motives and place every thought and action underneath His control. We are to be disciples, first and foremost, who are gospel-infused, Spirit-led, and dedicated to truth. This means exalting God’s Word, His methods, means, timing, and super-natural power.

If God is sufficient, we won’t dig our own cisterns.

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

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We’ll be satisfied when we take and drink and enjoy the Source of the living water, an endless supply, a spring of refreshment, cold, pure, free. We’ll find Him sufficient when we “come to Him” and put down our tools and our try-hard tenacity, and realize that the self-dependence that we once thought at strength was really a weakness and a hindrance from knowing Him. It’s a man-made glass with a hole in the bottom that can hold nothing and deliver nothing and will always leave you thirsty and wanting more.

So, this Easter, as you think about the cross and the resurrection, ask yourself how this has changed you. Have you found in Him your sufficiency and satisfaction?

 

Messy Beautiful Friendship Book Review

I just finished reading Christine Hoover’s Messy Beautiful Friendship which comes out on April 18th, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely and wanted to share a few thoughts and quotes from it with you.

First off, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book about cultivating women’s friendship. Would it seem seventh-gradish? Would I feel seventh-gradish reading it? Who has time for all the drama that can accompany women’s friendships, never mind read a book about all the ins and outs of said friendships? But Christine is one of my favorite bloggers, and I appreciate her writing, so I gladly jumped in and read, and I’m glad I did.

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Christine continually points us to Christ for our ultimate fulfillment, and gives us a Biblical framework for nurturing healthy, God-honoring friendships, which is why I would recommend this book.

It’s easy to read, relate-able, and convicting.

She shares her own struggles with interpersonal conflict, her tendency of building walls that shut women out, her assumptions about other women’s behavior when she doesn’t know the whole story, her tendency to make excuses that hinder friendship, and the common struggle to second guess everything about sticky friendships–aka–assume the worst in conflict.

She tells how she matured and pushed through to understand, listen, honor, and really love her friends from all stages and walks of life. She confides how she used her position as a pastor’s wife as an excuse for not having close friendships, when, in fact, she claims that her own indifference and pursuit of the “one friend to rule them all” were at the heart of her years of loneliness.

She writes:

“When we hold an ideal of friendship in our minds, believing it’s attainable, we hold a standard above the heads of real women God has placed in our lives, and then we wonder why we’re constantly disappointed by the realities, complexities, and difficulties in our relationship.” (Kindle, loc. 366)

“But in reality, our wish-dreams have little to do with God and his kingdom and everything to do with us and ours. God gives us relationships that are enjoyable and a blessing but also sanctify and challenge us out of our selfishness, because he intends to get the glory from our friendships.” (Kindle, loc. 378)

In other words, friendship isn’t all about us.

“Biblical friendship begins with God and ends with him also.” (loc. 462)

“When I am disappointed with my friendships and I take time to dig a little deeper in my heart, I inevitably find that I’m looking for my friends to relate to me as only God can.” (loc.504)

She devotes a section of the book to threats to friendship.

Fear: “If fear lies at the heart of our attempts at friendship, our interactions with other women will be drenched with insecurity. We will be entirely unable to handle conflict, will lash out an anything that brushes against our old wounds, and we will be quick to retreat at the first whiff of difficulty. We tell ourselves that this is natural, that this is the way friendship goes. This may be the way worldly friendship goes, but it doesn’t resemble anything we see in Scripture. Fear is an impediment to all the commanded “one another” moments in Scripture, because fear keeps our attention solely focused inward.” (loc. 737)

Unloving thoughts: “What are your thoughts about those who have hurt you? Did you have expectations of them that were too weighty? Are you holding on to bitterness even though Scripture tells us to root it out? Are you hurt because you’ve been keeping score and you feel you’re not getting what you deserve? Have you been keeping a record of wrongs? And if you’ve been legitimately sinned against, are you allowing God to escort you through the process of forgiveness? Are you fearful of being hurt again and therefore unwilling to trust God with your heart? And, most importantly, do you see what your fears are doing to you and to your friendships?” (loc. 798)

And she includes a super helpful list of questions to help you identify your most spiritually beneficial friendships, so you can put extra effort into nurturing and caring for those relationships. I did this simple exercise of jotting down the names of those women who build me up spiritually, who I trust to speak truth and correction into my life because they’ve earned my trust and mutual respect.  I realized through this exercise that I really need to schedule more time to spend with these edifying women, so I can benefit from them and bless them. The exercise also showed me relationships I need to be careful about, because we are warned against having friendships with angry people, or those who are unloving, untrustworthy, or an “unfaithful” wounder.

Turns out, being a good friend is about loving others well by following Scriptural mandates about honoring others first, loving them enough to think the best about them, giving the benefit of the doubt, faithfully speaking the truth of scripture into their lives, breaking through the awkward and being the first to love, honoring and preferring one another, submitting to one another and a host of other “one another” commands. We can only do this well when our identity is secure in the love of Christ as our ultimate friend.

I think this book will especially be helpful to moms of teenage girls who are navigating the maze of early friendships and learning what really loving one another looks like in practical terms. The teen years lay the foundation and course for normal, healthy friendships (or unhealthy ones) later on.

Caveat: I do need to mention that there are several casual references to music and television shows that I know conservative readers may not appreciate or endorse, such as Seinfeld, Survivor, Journey, etc… which can unwittingly normalize/validate shows with questionable elements. But apart from that, this book was extremely helpful.

*This post contains affiliate links. I received this book free to review at my discretion from the publisher, but as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Love the Imperfect “Right Now”

Yesterday, I woke with the knowledge that I was already behind. Coffee mugs, ice cream bowls, and popcorn kernels graced my kitchen sink and told the tale of the late night festivities that come with a house full of older children and their friends who come alive at night when I am ready to collapse into bed.

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An untidy house can send me over the edge depending on my mindset. (Did I mention I was tired?) Plus, my to-do list was long and our little one was up three times the night before.

These are the days when I feel my lack: not enough time, skill, wisdom, wit, energy,or money to create the life I’ve crafted in my mind as “ideal” and I feel myself sinking into discouragement.

And it’s rough, dear friend, when you hang on to ideals and compare them to the life that is right in front of you right now. It’s a sure fire way to make yourself miserable.

Today, maybe you are lacking as well. Maybe your ideals and your present circumstances are nothing alike. You believe you need:

  • more understanding to be a better wife,
  • more patience to be a better mom,
  • more money to provide better meals,
  • more wisdom to relate to people better,
  • more opportunities to get ahead,
  • more organization to be efficient,
  • more free time to pursue hobbies and dreams.

But here’s the thing: the need for more is a little lie I tell myself. It stems from a heart that believes that God short-changed me. The belief of “not enough” is a poor-me mindset, living like an orphan who needs to fend for herself, when I am in fact, a daughter of the King who has promised to take care of every one of my needs.

This quest for more because of a perceived lack is not a new phenomenon. No, it’s as old as

  • Sarai who wanted a son pronto, so used Hagar to get her way
  • the Israelites who needed better food because they were fed up with manna,
  • David, who believed he should have more in the wife department so killed and committed adultery to get it,
  • Annanias and Sapphira who wanted prestige and all their money at the same time, so they told a tall tale.

The lie of “Not enough”, when mulled and meditated upon, when toyed with and hand-crafted in our thoughts and imaginations, emerges as a micro-idol that lodges into my very being like a parasite. I barely know it exists until it shows itself in the unexpected moments:

  • complaining
  • blaming God
  • sour attitude
  • depression or apathy
  • lack of submission to others
  • demanding my own way

No matter what form it takes, its core of self-reliance, discontentment, control, and self-pity must be rooted out with gospel-truth.

My lack is supposed to show me Someone who never lacks and is all-powerful. It’s meant to break the death grip I have on preserving my own life through my own resources, and pry away my fingers so that I can gently hold the hand of my loving Heavenly Father who wants to provide what He knows is best for me.

The truth is that I have everything that I need in Christ. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want/lack.” This truth has been a great simplifier for me in my Christian walk. I can be at peace knowing God always gives me what is good and is too good to withhold any good thing from me.

When dishes in the sink mount, and dust flies in the air, and I can’t seem to get ahead, I need to preach to my own heart that failings don’t define me and inadequacies don’t disqualify me from the love of God. I can love the imperfect present because I am loved in spite of my dirty dishes or toddler who tantrums. I’m cherished regardless of how put together I am in the moment because God’s love is not about me measuring up. I’m still in His care when I’m exhausted and depleted and frustrated and feel un-spiritual. I still have His resources when I’m disappointed. And you can rest, too, whatever your lack, real or perceived. God has us where we are for a reason, and He will never give us something that is not for our good. Learning to be content in this present place is where the gospel-work is being done in our hearts today, friend. Let’s let God do His work in us.

Love,

Sarah

Construction update, spring decorating, and some favorite domestic quotes

We are almost finished with our house renovations, and since this has been going on since last November, if I never see a shop-vac again in my entire life, I’d be okay with that. I absolutely love how beautiful my kitchen is. I still can’t believe that God used ice dam damage to bless us in such an amazing way.

God’s goodness to us in this renovation has been evident. Almost embarrassing. He knows that my heart is to use our home to serve others, and He gave me WAY more than I ever hoped or imagined. I hesitate to write how excited I am because I don’t want anyone to think that I equate God’s smile with our American idea of a beautiful home. Still, after years of using our 1950’s kitchen for God’s glory (which, by the way, I grew to love and decorated the best I could) I’m excited to wash dishes in my brand new farmers sink.  Is that bad? Shallow?

During this whole affair, I’m firmer than ever in my conviction that a clean, orderly home is good for the mind, body, and soul. After living in boxes and seeing dust and debris for months, and feeling the mental confusion and frustration that disarray brings, I am more inspired than ever to keep our home well.

During these dusty months, friends have invited us in for dinner and ministered to us, another blessing of this project. My in-laws and parents were also a huge blessing, allowing the kids to study in peace at their home away from banging hammers, and allowing us to stay at their home during the worst phases.

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Although we’re still not completely done with the project (our floors are being done this week) I’m excited to do a little decorating in the places I can.

I saw some spring table decor in the Pottery Barn catalog that I loved but couldn’t afford spend the money on–this bunny cloche  {um, $169–crazy town}and spring flowers and nest –so I went to Michael’s Crafts this week and made my own version for a fraction of the price. (My DIY tutorial for the nest is here.) I like how it came out and love how it looks on my kitchen table.

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IMG_5144I found the cloche at Michael’s for $12 after my 40% coupon. It was in the area that had a bunch of fairy and gnome miniature house accessories. I covered a round piece of floral foam into the bottom and covered it with Spanish moss, attaching it with hot glue. I added the vintage glittery chick (in the seasonal Easter section) and a few sprigs of fake flowers. The tiny eggs were on a floral pick, so I pulled them off and stuck them in the ground. The mini nests were $1.99, and I just added moss with a glue gun and a few tiny eggs and leaves. (I have a tutorial for the larger nests here.) The grass covered bunnies were from Walmart. Anyway, after all the construction, I was so happy to decorate a little bit. I’m in the process of searching for fabric for kitchen curtains, my next project. :)

Are you guys excited for spring? Decorating? Send me your photos or tell me in the comments what you are up to. I love talking crafting. :)

Finally, since I’ve had homemaking on my mind lately, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite quotes that I hope will inspire you as you work in your home:

A household has to be tended if it is to flourish and grow. Housework is never ‘done’ in the same sense that gardening is never done or that God’s providential involvement in the world is never done. Housework and gardening and God’s providence itself are exercises not in futility but in faithfulness – faithfulness to the work itself, to the people whose needs that work serves, and to the God whose own faithfulness invites our faithful response.” Margaret Kim, Keeping House

I first learned that housework has meaning by observing my grandmothers. The reason they made a fuss when they saw their granddaughter doing things in a “foreign” way is that they knew–in their bones if not in words–that the way you experience life in your home is determined by how you do your housekeeping…

Understandably, each of my grandmothers wanted me to make a home in which she could feel at home…

This sense of being at home is important to everyone’s well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor, and courage will decrease…Home is the one place in the world where you are safe from feeling put down or out, unentitled,  or unwanted.

Home Comforts, Cheryl Mendelson

 

God’s economy is fantastic…As we serve someone, a human being, we can be serving the Lord…How do I regard my having tun upstairs with tea, or having served breakfast in bed, or having continued for years to do this kind of thing for a diversity of people,  as well as for my husband and children? How do I look at it? Do I feel like a martyr? Let me tell you exactly how I see it.

First, I say silently to the Lord, “Thank you that there is a practical way to serve YOU tea[or breakfast in bed, or whatever it is that I am doing for someone.] There would be no other way of bringing You food, or doing some special thing for You.  Thank you for making it so clear that as we do things that are truly in the realm of giving of ourselves in service to others, we are really doing to for You.

Edith Schaeffer, Common Sense Christian Living

 

“Putting away things that get daily or weekly use is a way to exercise a kind of providential foresight…Having clothes ready to wear in the drawer or in the closet is part of creating an expectation that in this home we care for one another. Our needs are not a perpetual emergency but are anticipated and provided for ahead of time.” Margaret Kim, Keeping House

I hope you have a great week.

*Post contains affiliate links to Amazon. Thanks for supporting my blog.

What is Important Ministry Work?

“Does my work matter in the grand scheme of things? And how do I live a life of ministry to God and others if I’m home all day with kids?”

I asked myself this question many times over the years as a stay at home mom of five children who came all in the span of under ten years. During that time, if I wasn’t pregnant and throwing up with morning sickness, then I was nursing a baby or trying to potty train and juggle toddlers. If I’m honest, I think the real question haunting me was whether my ministry work mattered as much as what Peter was doing for the Lord, because sometimes motherhood feels like you are sidelined and out of the game, not really doing the real work, the stuff that matters.

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I’m addressing this today because this topic comes up in my inbox often. In so many seasons of life, we try to choose between kids, home, work, and “ministry” like we’re walking a tightrope, trying to balance our Christian life by finding the perfect “home:ministry:work” ratio that will please God.

I think this confusion means that we need to better define what qualifies as important ministry work.  

A missionary wife once confided that her days on the field felt unproductive. While her husband was out “ministering,” she was shut away spending so much time trying to provide basics like washing clothes and cooking meals, gathering ingredients and waiting for electricity so she could actually cook the meal. Her work seemed sub-par and unimportant compared to his ministry since her daily highlights would hardly make the next newsletter updates. How again was she contributing to the church? Was this what her calling to the mission field was going to look like for the rest of her life?

Today I want to share a few things that have helped me through the years of having to sort through priorities and what ministry means in my life.

First, If it’s appointed, it’s important.

I needed to stop setting up a false dichotomy between the “secular” and “sacred” aspects of my life. Teaching Sunday School was important, but clipping the kids’ fingernails was unimportant.  As a believer, I can’t think this way because God tells me that He is the one who planned out the work I am to do:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph.2:10

The Bible also says, “LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.” In short, God does the “doling” out. My ministry with a large family, as a homeschooling mother, in my time and place will look very different from the single woman’s ministry. And my ministry will change as the seasons of my life change. God knows every detail. And all the work He has called me to do can and should be done for His glory.

For instance, some days my assignments from God are simple: I make the bed for God’s glory. I wash the floor, make supper, and bake cookies to God’s glory. Other days God asks me to teach a Sunday School class, counsel a hurting friend, or teach the teen girls. Some days He appoints that I visit someone in the hospital or speak to a large group of women. Some jobs are easier than others for me and some are not my favorite, but each one can be done with joy as an offering to God. There is not one assigned job that was unimportant.

Secondly, when we think of ministry we need to re-evaluate what that means. What is a woman’s ministry? Or, what is your ministry as a woman? Is it when you teach a Sunday School? Is it ministry when you drive dear old Aunt Martha to the grocery store, or sit with a sorrowing friend? Is it when you mentor that younger mom who is at your kitchen table in tears? What qualifies as ministry? Ministry sounds like a lofty word, but simply put, it’s service. And service isn’t always glamorous and a servant rarely gets to choose his work for the day. A servant does the will of someone else for the benefit of another. Service. Work. Under the Lordship of Christ. Plain and simple.

Thankfully, the Lord allows us to serve using our “gifts” in many ways as we are led by the Holy Spirit. And the Lord will give you the desires and direct you to use your gifts in the ways He wants–and to the people who need your service. There are so many varied examples of “ministry” in scripture that they are too numerous to name, but a we see that God uses women in many important ways: teaching good things, ministering to the sick, sewing for others, telling the good news to friends and family members, caring for widows and orphans, hospitality, correcting doctrine, feeding people, housing the church. My friends all have so many varied ministries that none of our lives look the same. From working full time to staying at home, from caring for an aging parent to cradling a newborn. Whether you are traveling the globe as a missionary or evangelist’s wife or serving in the hometown you were born in, the job and location doesn’t really matter, does it? But there’s a common thread that runs through all work that is done for the Lord and you’ll see it in the lives of the godly older women you most admire: the Word of God is primary.

True ministry is “Word Work.”

  1. It is Word-filled. We aren’t here to spread our own opinions. We aren’t here to spread the opinions of a great author or commentator, and we aren’t to study their books or words over the Words of Scripture. Anybody that we work with should know by our words and deeds that Scripture has the final say in our life and conduct.
  2. It is Spirit-directed. The Holy Spirit directs us and we almost can’t help but minister to the people He intends for us to minister to.
  3. It’s purpose is God’s glory. True service is never about me. In fact, if God doesn’t come out shining then you are doing something very wrong.

Your work, no matter how big or small, infused with God’s Word, done God’s way brings glory to God.

Whether you are ironing your husband’s shirt, reading to your children, counseling your teen, or speaking to a crowd, your work, infused with God’s Word, done God’s way, brings Him glory.

My encouragement for you today is that your important ministry is:

whoever God puts in front of you today: your kids, your husband, extended family, and out from there: neighbor, class mate, co-worker, the lady at the grocery store, that woman who calls you crying. Younger moms, if the only people you see all day are under 2 feet tall and are clinging to your leg about to drive you crazy, remember God gave you those kids as an assignment from Him. You are the only one called to those kids and the work matters to God.

whatever God gives you to do today: from everyday responsibilities like food prep or car pooling, to surprises like sickness or a friend who suddenly needs help, or to opportunities that fall into your lap, everything comes from the hand of the Lord, and He’ll direct you, give you wisdom and the energy to do what must be done. No matter how lack-luster or glamorous, the assignment isn’t really important, but our faithfulness and joy as we do it as unto the Lord.

What has God called you to do today?

What one job or person do you dread?

What can you do to change your outlook and work as though you are standing and doing it for the Lord?