Recently I interviewed Kristen Howerton (visit rageagainsttheminivan.com to find out more about her). I read her book Rage Against the Minivan in 24 hours. It was that good.
I’m not a huge fan of parenting books, tbh. They usually end up making me feel even worse than I already do about my failing parenting skills. But Kristen met me right where I was with this book and I couldn’t put it down.
One thing she talks about in the book is “Opting In” and “Opting Out” of certain activities for you and your kids. Gosh, I loved the practicality of that idea. So, I’ve starting making my lists of what I am “Opting In” and “Out Of” so I don’t opt out of my every-loving-mind.
- At least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time with Mom a day (when I can): Whether that is just talking, playing a game, watching a show, coloring, or baking. Just taking a few minutes out of my day to make sure my kids know they are a priority is important to me. It fills their tanks and mine.
- Family dinners: Most nights out of the week, we sit down around our farmhouse table for family meals. I love this time because we always ask the kids what their best part of the day was. I feel like the kids share, laugh hard, and get our undivided attention.
- Cleaning schedule: I have a cleaning schedule that I follow almost to the letter because it keeps me from spending several hours one day a week cleaning the whole house. Instead, I do about a room or two a day. It’s been amazing and leaves me feeling like the whole house is always clean!
- Cooking: We used to eat out all of the time and it was expensive, stressful, and unhealthy. Covid forced me to slow down and cook at home. It also helped me organize my day so that I was always sure we were home by a certain time for me to make a meal. I have found cooking is like working out for me: It keeps me focused on the task at hand and reduces my stress and anxiety.
- Music on: Alexa sits on my kitchen counter and is always playing some tunes in the background.
- Candles Lit: I love a cozy smelling house. So between my candles and my music, I feel like I’ve set a relaxing tone for my house. It helps my mind center and reminds me that I am safe and can create safety for my family.
- Working out: I don’t workout more than an hour a day. I take the kids for a run (25 minutes) and then do a 30 minute workout at home. It reduces stress and helps me maintain my health. It’s also a good example to the kids. But anymore than that and it begins to jeopardize the rest of my day. I also workout at home now using Beach Body on Demand. I used to go to the gym and enjoyed it, but I would stress wondering how much time I was taking away from being home.
- Living life: The past year has taught us that you don’t have to take every opportunity thrown at you, but like, why not? Why not go all in, balls to the wall, and really LIVE? So we don’t get bogged down by the “what if’s” because we don’t want to have any “if onlys” later. But, here are staples to living this way: A budget, communication, values. Those three things will put guardrails around each of your decisions so you don’t derail your life.
- Time with grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. We will plan our weekends around parties and gatherings with/for family. They are our people.
- Sex night: This has revolutionized our marriage. Pick one night a week when YOU KNOW you are going to have sex. Ladies, this will help you know what is coming and how to prepare for it. Do you need to nap? Do you need to do less so you have energy? Is that sexy outfit ready? etc etc etc. This may sound lame, but our sex life has grown EXPONENTIALLY because we’ve invested in it. And, we now have sex WAY MORE than one time a week. But we also don’t pressure ourselves because we schedule sexcations where we get away without the kids to catch up if need be.
- Prayer: I have started making this a staple of my day and it has changed everything. I write in my prayer journal or pray while I run. I just list out my concerns, stressors, fears, and then spend some time thanking Jesus for stuff. It’s amazing how writing it down or talking it out releases the pressure and allows me to better focus on my family and the day at hand.
- An uncluttered house: I am trying to learn that allowing the kids to use their imaginations and play requires some mess. And noise. Both of these things tend to trigger me because I fear the clean up and the energy it will take to organize the chaos. Instead, I am choosing to let the kids be kids and embrace the mess, because, one day, I am going to miss this.
- Mowing the lawn: We hired a lawn service and a pool service a few years ago. I used to do those two things myself, but the time it took away from other stuff wasn’t worth it. Also, we didn’t want Bryant spending his time off on the lawn and pool and not the kids. So it is a staple in our budget now.
- Empty laundry baskets: Some weeks I’m better at this than others. But guess what? I now have five other people who can help with the laundry and I’m not afraid to employ them on the task!
- Perfect grades: My kids do their best. End of story.
- Extra curriculars: We just haven’t gotten started with these yet. Idk when we will. We value our week nights and weekends too much.
- Nights out: Bryant and I get one night a week to be out if we need it. Due to our jobs, we sometimes have to schedule things in the evenings. But we aren’t away more than once a week.
- A huge circle of friends: We honestly don’t have time for tons of friends. Or the energy. Our job requires a lot out of us emotionally, so we have to have very secure and confident friends. We have a few close friends who we invest in, and that’s it.
So there are a few of the things I’m opting in to and out of. What about you? What do you need to opt in to and out of? I’d love to hear in the comments.
So I can’t get past the life changing message in 2 Chronicles 20 (Who would have ever guessed there was such awesome stuff in Chronicles? Who even knows where Chronicles is in the Scriptures?).
Let’s Get Caught Up
To get caught up with this blog, read Juggling. Here’s a quick recap: We know that King Jehoshaphat is up against an army he cannot defeat. He cries out to God and says: “We are powerless against this great horde…we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
God responds: “The battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” Wow. I can’t get over God’s answer. He says in essence, “You can’t do it. You will fail. Watch me do my thing.”
God wanted to show off to His people. He knew that they could not do anything on their own; only He is self-sufficient. He wanted to prove this to them. So what were they to do during the battle if they weren’t going to fight?
2 Chronicles 20:21: “And Jehoshaphat appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise Him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
The army simply praised God! And God blessed them…He “gave rest all around”.
I love this story because it proves what I know intellectually, but need to be reminded of emotionally. I can do nothing. I am simply a branch. Do you remember in John 15 in the Scriptures when Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches”? Have you ever wondered what that actually meant?
It means realizing that the vine gives the nutrients. The vine causes the growth. The vine protects, sustains, and fortifies. I simply get to know who Jesus is and then let him come in and do all of the work. The more I get to know him, the more like him I become. I just am because I am a part of the Almighty I Am.
Who Am I?
I’ve said this before, but some of you don’t know who you are because you don’t know who Jesus is. Wait, what? You are trying to find your identity in anything and everything because you are too afraid to slow down and really ask the questions: Does Jesus love me? Does he accept me? The answer is a resounding YES! But some of you have been taught a Jesus that doesn’t exist. You’ve been taught a Jesus arrogant Christians made up to control you. It’s time to stop running from him and figure out who he actually is.
A great place to start is in the Gospels. When I was deconstructing my faith, I started reading in the Gospels. My views and relationship with Jesus were transformed as I read how he interacted with people and loved them unconditionally.
What Happened Next?
And would you know, I started slowing down. Saying no. Leaning into my identity as someone who is loved and accepted by Jesus and so no longer needed to prove herself. I started getting healthy in counselling and loving people with no strings attached. I started being thankful and praising Jesus for the good things in my life that I was finally able to slow down and enjoy. It was not overnight, but gosh was it life-changing.
So what about you? Are you brave enough to come to the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Scriptures) and see who Jesus actually is?
Why is it so hard for me to accept that God does not need me?
I need to be needed. I need to feel like I matter. Like people’s well-being depends on me. Cause if people don’t need me, they will leave me. And then I will be alone with my thoughts and feelings and that scares me. I don’t want to have to face my past…I want to distract myself from my past with my busy present. And so I tend to run around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to get things done so I don’t have to think. To feel. And I exhaust myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
There is nothing wrong with being busy. Busyness is a part of life. But sometimes my “busyness” is self-inflicted to either distract myself or to find my identity in something else.
And so we always say yes and never say no and now we have so many things on our plate, we aren’t balancing anything, we are juggling everything. God never meant for us to “juggle” our lives. What is that verse in Matthew 11:28? “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” Nothing in there about Jesus’s work requiring juggling, or causing anxiety or exhaustion or overwhelmed feelings. It just says what Jesus asks us to do is “easy” and “light”. Gosh, how do I find that work? Must be nice.
The First Step
In 2 Chronicles 20 in the Scriptures, King Jehoshaphat (crazy name) is in a war that he knows he will not win. He is facing an overwhelming circumstance that he cannot avoid. See, that’s the first step in going from anxious and overwhelmed to easy and light: It’s setting down those things that don’t matter – those things that are just distractions. We will face enough in life that we have no choice but to confront. Why are you exhausting all of your mental, emotional and physical margin on things you don’t have to do? If you are having trouble saying “no” to certain things for fear of being replaced, rejected, or abandoned, that’s a tall-tale sign that you need to find a good counselor and get to work on yourself.
Back to our story: Jehoshaphat turns to God and cries out for help: “You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand You…We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” Wow. To have the courage that Jehoshaphat had to admit that he was nothing and could handle nothing apart from God…
Whether it’s your fear of your past, the intimidation of counselling, or just the looming circumstance in front of you that you cannot circumvent, you have to have the courage to invite God into your situation. You are not strong enough…big enough…brave enough…healthy enough…But God is.
Here is God’s response: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”
God doesn’t need me
I tend to believe that God needs me…because I need to be needed. I have so many fears and insecurities that I try to temper by being needed, which in my mind is a sure way to evade rejection and abandonment. But if God did need me, then he isn’t God at all, is he? And that scares the sh%$ out of me.
A.W. Tozer says: “This truth [that God is self-sufficient and needs no-one], while a needed rebuke to human self-confidence [ouch], will when viewed in its Biblical perspective lift from our minds the exhausting load of mortality and encourage us to take the easy yoke of Christ and spend ourselves in Spirit-inspired toil for the honor of God and the good of mankind. For the blessed news is that the God who needs no one has in sovereign condescension stooped to work by and in and through His obedient children…In the meanwhile our inner fulfillment lies in loving obedience to the commandments of Christ and the inspired admonitions of His apostles. ‘It is God which worketh in you.’ He needs no one, but when faith is present He works through anyone.”
I have to have faith that God is going to come through for me. That he’s not going to drop the ball. Unbelief, Tozer says, is deadly because I am believing in myself, not God, and I am only human. I will fail. Do I really believe God has got this…whatever the “this” may be in my life at any given time? If so, I will allow Him to dictate my day (“Spirit-inspired toil for the honor of God”) and I will be freed up to love and to serve other people (“the good of mankind”). I won’t be distracted by finding ways to make myself feel wanted and needed and irreplaceable. I will be able to focus on loving God and loving others, which is exactly who God created me to be. I will be living my divine purpose, and there is nothing more fulfilling.
Where to start?
Here’s where I’m starting: I am trying to find 10-12 minutes each day where I can pray uninterrupted. I like to write my prayers – it keeps me focused. When I can’t write them, I like to run and pray or walk and pray. In those 10-12 minutes, I am pouring out all of my anxieties, insecurities, fears, feelings of being overwhelmed, and confused. Then, I get up from that time fully surrendered to do what I know needs done next. Not what will necessarily distract me or make me feel better, but what actually needs done. My yoke actually does feel lighter because I’ve left all of my negative emotions with Jesus, trusting that He will take care of those things. And then I live in the moment.
Want to join me? How and where will you spend you 10-12 minutes in prayer today?
I am not going to lie…I more often than not feel like I’m owed. I mean, be honest, don’t you? If you are thinking, “No, I really don’t.” Then riddle me this: Why do you get hurt, angry, stressed, or depressed? Because you think you are entitled to certain outcomes, and when you don’t get those outcomes, all Hell breaks lose. You with me? Personally, this is why I struggle to forgive, to extend grace, and to surrender to God. I feel like He owes me and so do people. How arrogant of me! No wonder there are times in my life when it feels like God is against me…James 4 says He’s opposed to the proud but close to the humble. Yikes.
What about Job?
I was reading in Job yesterday. Here’s a dude that had it all…a big family, a lot of money, a huge tent (equivalent to house…haha…for some reason that cracked me up), and a loaded camel (car – funny to me too…sorry). In Job 1:6-12, God basically challenges Satan to a duel. God is so confident in His faithfulness and sovereignty, that He gives Satan permission to utterly destroy Job’s life. Wait a minute…come again? Yeah, God believes enough in His own goodness that He allows Satan to wreck Job. I am not sure if you are frightened or comforted by that thought. In a strange way, I am frighteningly comforted. God knows He will be enough for Job. Here is the crazy thing…God is also confident that Job will rely on God’s immutable character to define his circumstances and not allow the circumstances to define God’s character. Wow.
In verses 13-19, four servants inform Job, one after the other mind you, that everything he has was just destroyed. Everything. Gone. In a matter of minutes. What Job does next hit me hard yesterday…”He fell to the ground and worshipped.” I just had to stop typing for a second and take a deep breath. He explains, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
What about God?
We have heard that verse a thousand times, haven’t we? But think about what Job is saying here. He realized he is entitled to nothing (he came into the world naked – with nothing – and would leave naked – with nothing), but that God is the Creator of the Universe and entitled to everything…even worship during a disastrous season.
Here’s the crazy thing…Job admits in 2:10 that he and his wife have experienced “evil”, which literally means “disaster”, from God. However, Job questions, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job had a proper view of life because He had a proper view of God. God’s character defined Job’s circumstances. God’s character defined how Job viewed himself. God’s character kept Job alive when death looked more promising.
What about Us?
We live in a broken world. And this brokenness causes the evil. The disaster. I mean, read the verses in Job again…Satan brings up Job to God and says that Job won’t still love God if Satan takes everything away. God allowed the disaster, but He didn’t cause it. Satan did. Jennie Lusko and I talk about this in our Scar Stories Podcast. It’s so important that we realize that God isn’t out to destroy us – Satan is – but God offers us Himself, which is more than enough when we lose everything.
I wonder what circumstance you are walking through today that is tempting you to doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. You’re questioning His love, grace, and forgiveness. You wonder if He’s there…close. You know what you need to do, but you are more afraid of what everyone else will think and aren’t sure God will be enough. You are allowing your circumstances to define Who God is and control what you will do. But I want to challenge you: the Scriptures say we are NEVER given more than we can handle because we are given God – and He handles everything! What you have to determine is will you surrender your heart to Him and realize you were never entitled to anything but Him. And that, my friend, truly is enough.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
– Ecclesiastes 3:1
Just a season. This too shall pass.
I am going to tell you, some days I cling to those seven powerful words, don’t you? Some seasons in our lives just suck. There’s no other way to put it.
- You are struggling with grades, friends, identity, you name it – in high school. Yeah. Those four years are rough. Awful sometimes. It’s a season. Hang in there. I promise, the best is yet to come. Dig your roots down deep in your youth group. If you don’t have one, find one. Probably some of the most influential people in my life were my mentors in high school. They don’t know it, but I think of them often and remember that during that time, they were my lifelines.
- You are 21 and still single. Seems like a lifetime, doesn’t it? Been there. In fact, I was 23 when I met Bryant (or 24…I can’t remember and I am terrible at simple math). When I graduated from college, I had only had one official boyfriend (a few “going steadies” in between) and most of my friends were already married with a child and number two on the way. No lie. I felt like the Apostle Paul: I had the gift of celibacy. When I moved to Florida, I was so lonely at times. I second guessed my personality, looks, you name it. And what’s funny? I was only 23. If you are in this boat, I am not patronizing you. I get it. But it’s a season. Just a season. Fill your single years with as much as you can. Start pursuing your dreams. Take a chance. I moved down to Florida from New York and took a job at a respectable school when I was only 22 and after a pretty severe breakup. I was scared to death. Best decision I made. Cause then I met Bryant…on a blind date…and the rest is history!
- You are recently married and facing marital trouble. Been there. Our first year was no picnic. It was awful. But it was a season. We sought counselling, experienced real healing, and I’m going to be honest, I understood the ramifications of the Gospel during that season more than any other time in my life. It was the most sanctifying, healing, horrifying, exhilarating time in our lives. And our marriage is strong and healthy now as a result. A season.
- You were diagnosed with clinical depression or some sort of personality disorder and/or anxiety disorder. Been there. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder shortly after we got married (hence some of our difficulties). That’s when I jumped head first into counselling. Yes, I was embarrassed by the label. I hated it. But it forced me – I mean absolutely demanded – into the grace, love, and unconditional forgiveness of Christ. My mental illness still beats me up at times. But it’s just a season. I know during those times to reach out to my closest friends for prayer. I speak honestly with Bryant. And I schedule a counseling appointment. Yes, even after ten years, I still see my counselor. It’s a season.
- You have a newborn. Need I say more? Listen, it’s a season. Now he/she is a toddler. It’s a season. I so appreciate Instagram right now. You know why? I have some honest mommy friends who share their real stories of frustration, pain, exhaustion, excitement, and happiness through pictures. I don’t feel so alone. And we can be praying for each other and encouraging each other that this is just a season. One day, when we are 50 and empty-nesters, we are going to miss these days. Sometimes I don’t believe that, but I take the word of my more “seasoned” friends. Hang in there mommy and daddy. Soak in those precious moments. Laugh at the aggravating ones. It’s a season.
- You are divorced or have faced (are facing) some sort of loss. My dear, dear brother or sister…It’s a season. Please do not think for a moment that God has abandoned you. That’s what Satan wants you to think. He wants to destroy your life and the fastest way to do that is to isolate you from your Heavenly Father who probably doesn’t seem that loving right now. This is cliché, but grasp a hold of His promises from the Word of God: His mercies are new every morning. He’s never going to leave or forsake you. He wants to give you abundant life. Find some friends who can have faith for you during this time. Hurt. Bleed. But then cling. Cling to Him. It’s just a season.
You were diagnosed with cancer. You’ve just moved for the hundredth time. You have trouble making and keeping friends. You have to pull away from a person who is doing you and your family some harm. You lost your job. You quit your job. You can’t make ends meet. You are making more than you ever have. Seasons. These are all seasons. I have friends in almost every one of these categories. Dear friends. Friends that I hate seeing hurt. Friends that feel so alone. And all I can say is that God is WITH you. He knows.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Exodus 2:25. The Israelites were experiencing brutal slavery and felt like God was no where to be found. But this verse says so eloquently:
God saw what was going on with Israel.
So I leave you with this…not a theological argument for God’s presence, not a ton of Scriptures for you to memorize, not another Bible study or list of things to do. Just this: God sees. God knows. God understands. God’s with you. It’s just a season. Hang in there dear friend.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity
A time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a t time to search and a a time to give up,
at time to keep and time to throw away,
at time to tear and time to mend,
at time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a t time to war and a a time for peace.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
So I have been rubbing shoulders with a number of people who just feel overwhelmed and bogged down with life. Life is hard. It hurts. It’s exhausting. It’s stressful. It’s lonely. It sucks.
Bottom line: Life beats us down and wears us out. The good news is that life is broken down into seasons…some are good and some are bad. Some seasons are short and others are long. If we don’t have a remind ourselves of the Gospel every day, it’s easy to give into the lie that God doesn’t love us, is punishing us for something, or just took off
My friend, nothing could be further from the Truth. The Gospel tells us that when we were at our worst, God sent His Son Jesus to die for us (Romans 5:8). He loves us as much as He loves Jesus. That blows my mind! When God looks at us, He sees Jesus. And since He can never be upset, disappointed or just over Jesus, He will never be upset, disappointed or over you.
Just this morning I was reading in 2 Corinthians 1. Here are some of the verses:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows…[comfort] produces in you patient endurance.”
I love the line that says, “Just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” We are going to face hard times. God tells you that straight up (got to appreciate His honesty, am I right?). But, He also promises His comfort. His presence. His peace.
Some of you may be thinking, “Hold the phone. I am in the middle of my own personal hell right now and I ain’t experiencing no peace.” (Disclaimer: I am sure you practice better grammar than that). Well, let me ask you this: Do you believe that God loves you…and even likes you?
That’s a simple question…with a really difficult answer for some. I was just talking with a friend who is going through a tough time right now and she was absolutely convinced God didn’t like her and was out to get her for past mistakes. Oh how that broke my heart. We will have to face the consequences for our decisions…and sometimes those aren’t pleasant. But there are also times when we are in the middle of a “crapstorm” that we didn’t create. Either way, God is WITH US and FOR US. He never leaves us, and He surrounds us with HIS GRACE and all the chances we need.
Paul says in the Scriptures:
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, Who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Paul (if you aren’t familiar with the Scriptures, Paul is a big deal in there) was suicidal at times! Isn’t that crazy? I mean, check out the verses above…”we despaired even of life.” Hello. He didn’t want to live because life got so bad at times. But, he gives the answer: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, Who raises the dead.”Tough, terrible, horrible times often reveal the “dead” parts in us: Those things we are still hanging on to to give us meaning, identity, and worth apart from Jesus. Those things that when we lose them, we feel like we can’t go on. The good news is God wants to raise those dead parts to life by giving us His abundant life through Jesus. We have to “set our hope” on Him (see above). We have to believe that He truly does love us more than anything and will finish the good work He’s started (Philippians 1:6). We are worth Jesus Christ to God! We have to accept Jesus as our Personal Savior (apart from anything good we can or will do) and believe that only through Jesus can we have a personal relationship with God. Then, we have to remind ourselves everyday that the same love God showed by trading in Jesus for us, He offers everyday. We just have to accept it. You may not feel it at times. But you have to choose to believe it. And when we are living grounded in God’s unfailing love for us, we can face anything knowing that God will give us what we need to face it.
God will give you more than you can handle, because He wants to handle it for you.
I love the last few verses in 2 Corinthians 1:
God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting His yes within us. By His Spirit, He has stamped us with His eternal pledge – a sure beginning of what He is destined to complete.
God affirms you…not your circumstances. He defines you. Not the difficulties you are facing now. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, God has stamped you with His “Yes!” And He promises to complete what He has started in you for your good and His glory (Romans 3:23).
Hang in there dear friend. Keep reminding yourself of the incredible love of God that He demonstrated for you when He had Jesus Christ die in your place on the cross for your sins (past, present, and future). Trust in Him, and not in your own works. Believe that He is your only hope for Heaven and that He loves you no matter what you do, what other people say, what circumstances you face, or how you feel.