In the Middle

Last October, I took a trip with TEAM, the missions organization I work for, to Spain and Portugal. On the trip, we explored the culture of each city and learned about the religious implications Spanish and Portuguese history have on sharing the Gospel today. This post is a long time coming…this trip had a profound effect on my heart and mind, but I wanted to process internally before putting it out there.

 

The beginning of a story is exciting, full of possibilities.

The end of a story is typically full of gratitude, thanksgiving, and excitement for the next steps.

But the middle of the story—that’s the everyday, one foot in front of the other part. It’s the drudgery, the hard work, the repetitiveness. The middle can be simple and even boring. But it’s also where the faithfulness is born.

One of my favorite things of my trip to Spain and Portugal was walking the journey of a church plant just outside of Porto, Portugal. I read this story from TEAM about this church’s journey and their difficulties finding a place to meet and grow as a body of believers. Communities in Porto are really suspicious of evangelical organizations. Some people might even compare them to a cult. But the Holy Spirit moved and this body of believers continued to grow—building or not.

This church got kicked out of the missionary’s living room, then moved to a space next to a bar. They were kicked out of there, and moved into a restaurant, only to quickly outgrow the space. They made another move to a larger building. They put so much sweat and tears into this next location to make it welcoming for visitors, but they outgrew this building, too, and knew they wouldn’t be able to find a building for rent that was big enough to hold them. Through more sweat, tears, and prayer, they eventually were able to purchase their own three story building and even build a beautiful sanctuary.

Porto Cathedral

Porto Cathedral

That evening, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of this church with the body of Portuguese believers there. There were young people leading worship as we sang, “Greater things are yet to come in this city.” It was surreal, this beautiful redemptive story wrapped in a bow. God provided the church with a building, where they are now thriving!

Looking back, it is so easy to forget all the doubts and questioning and the beginning and middle of this story. People came and went from this church throughout the years. Missionaries were lonely as they made a home away from what they knew. There were probably many nights wondering where there congregation could meet that week.  Yet, all the while, God was moving them closer to this moment of celebration, inch by inch.

Bom Jesus in Braga, Portugal

Bom Jesus in Braga, Portugal

Here’s the thing: we all have a middle to our stories. We all have the moments where we are so unsure we are where we are supposed to be that we want to quit. When things are so difficult that it’s easier to pack up and go home. But sometimes God asks us to show up in the middle and do the hard work and if we refuse, our stories don’t get the victorious endings they deserve. They don’t express the faithfulness of showing up every day to the thing you’re called to and doing it without glamor or fanfare.

A view of Porto from Porto Cathedral

A view of Porto from Porto Cathedral

It reminds me of one of my very favorite verses, “Let us hold unswervingly to this faith we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Let us show up in the middle, let us keep doing the work God puts before us. Let us keep showing up, day in and day out. Let us hold unswervingly to our faith, even when it’s plain and simple and boring. I love the beginnings and the endings, but I hope I get better at the glorious, faithful middle.

5 Words

This week I’m playing along with my For the Love sister’s Link-up at MrsDisciple.com. You can check out the full link-up at her site!

2015, my year of dwell, was full of lessons figuring out things about my personality, what I like and don’t like, and what I need to be healthy mentally and emotionally. I’m sure in ten years I will laugh about how little I know now, but here are five adjectives that this past year I’ve learned to describe myself. Please play along in the comments!

  1. Idealist—I truly believe the world can be better and together we have the power and mean to change the world for better. This also means I sometimes have high expectations.
  2. Creative—I’m not a painter, jewelry-maker, or draw-er, but I’ve learned that if I go too long without creating, I start to feel disconnected with myself. Whether it’s a blog post or a nice dinner, my soul feels connected when I’m creating.
  3. Growing—something I remind myself often is that I am still growing. Brandon Heath’s song “He’s Not Finished with Me Yet” is one of my favorite songs. Because I have those high expectations, sometimes I need to give myself a little grace, and this last year I feel like I let this truth sink in a little deeper.
  4. Passionate—I get excited about new things and immediately want to share them with someone else. See also: every post on this blog.
  5. Jumper--I tend to jump into new ideas without too much thought to the details. Thank goodness Chris is the opposite or else we would have been a few days into the trip I planned for us to NYC before we realized we were broke! :)

So I'm intrigued...what 5 words would you use to describe yourself? The good, the bad, the bragging...anything goes!

You Have a Fresh Start

I want to tell you: you have a fresh start right here, right this minute.

This right here can be the day you let go of the shame and the guilt of past years. This is the time you can leave anger or anxiety behind. 2016 can be a year of remarkable change and growth.

This year I’m praying boldly and asking for help when I need it. I’m making a plan for my physical, spiritual, and emotional health. But I know all these things are pointless if I don’t take that first step away from what I’ve always been and into who God wants me to be.

Sometimes it’s hard to give up who we’ve always been to walk into our fresh start. The things about us that hurt the most--we hold them so tightly they become part of our identity. Walking away from that, no matter how needed it is, can be scary. What do I do when I’m not the girl who ______________?

I remember seeing a video back in college that explained the Gospel like this—you’re a prisoner, guilty of the crimes of which you’re charged, sentenced to death in prison. And then Jesus opens the door, comes and sits inside your cell, and tells you you are free now. He will stay in your place. The door is wide open and freedom is right outside, but sometimes we get so comfortable in our jail cells we are scared to do the work of walking out the door.

So here we are, a handful of days past the beginning of a new year, but no matter what time of year—you have the opportunity to have a fresh start. You just have to take the first step out of that door. Maybe for you that’s a prayer. Maybe it’s a counselor or medication. Maybe it’s sitting on the back pew of a church service for the first time in years, or telling a friend things are actually not okay at all.

You can do this.  I’m believing in you and for you, and maybe a little in myself, too.


(In between writing and editing I just saw this beautiful blog post from Jess Connolly about this very thing.)

Asking for Promises

Stop asking me to make more promises as if the ones I’ve already laid out are not enough.

I heard that, loud and clear. As I was making goals a few weeks ago, I began almost scared to write anything down on the paper. What if God asks us to move again? What if something terrible happens to someone in our family? What if we lose all of our savings somehow?

I was praying through these, not in an all-spiritual kind of way, but in an “OH CRAP please no please no please no” type of way. I was suddenly almost frantic as I thought about the vast unknowns we could be walking into.

And then I felt in my spirit a stern, but loving, voice tell me that He’s promised lots of things that I can cling to. 100% security and rest all the time is not one of them, because He has much better promises. Promises that He has a plan and a purpose. A promise that He will never leave me. A promise that I will see miraculous things come to pass. A promise that He will do whatever is best for those who love Him.

I can’t ask God to make promises merely for the sake of my comfort. He has literally done everything possible for me. He has moved mountains. He have never left me (Deuteronomy 31:6). He promises I don’t have to worry (Hebrews 13:5). He has guaranteed salvation and written my name on His hands (Romans 10:9, Isaiah 49:16). He has promised to bear my yoke. He says He will give me victory and rest and peace (Romans 8:37, Matthew 11:29, John 14:7).

So God won’t promise I will live in the same house for the rest of my life—but what He does promise is so much bigger and better. If I cling to my own perceptions and desires and wait to be vulnerable and dig into community until I have this one little promise, I will miss out on so much of what He has called me to do.

This year, as I set my goals and intentions, I am believing God is going to do huge things. I am believing for healing in an area of my life that I’ve been harboring for years and years. I am asking boldly for purpose and strength. I’m learning I can’t reasonably ask for these things and also ask for everything to remain exactly the same. And I am learning I can be not just okay with that, but overjoyed in the promises of what is to come.

Setting Goals with Grace: The Goal Part

I'm so pumped about goal setting this year that I outlined the process in a new workbook: Goals with Grace. It includes five days of worksheets guiding you to set goals with God's plans in mind. Click here to sign up for this FREE workbook!

Part I: The Year of…

Part II: Setting Guides

After setting my verse guides for the year and boldly praying over them, I was itching to set actual goals! Since SO much can change in a year, I am holding off setting goals for the entire year. I have an idea of where I want to go and things I want to accomplish, but I am going to take one month at a time.

Something one of my professors in college talked about was setting SMART goals. Goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound. So a non-SMART goal would be to get healthy. A SMART goal would be to, say, only drink water for the month of January.  I typically try to follow this in goal setting.

My first list of goals for January had about 20 goals….blah. Since I’m trying not to fail the first month out, I kept myself to 5 fairly simple goals I want to accomplish in January:

Read a marriage book about supporting your spouse. I checked out Power of a Praying Wife last week and have already started reading! This is definitely an area I need to grow in.

Blog 3 times a week. If you’re reading this, the first week’s accomplished!

Pray intentionally for the youth group. Daily.

Only eat out one dinner a week. This weekend I made 4 freezer meals to help prepare for this—too bad I want to eat them all ASAP. (I made a version of The Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Pot Pies and Annette’s Enchiladas from Shauna Neiquist’s book Bread and Wine).

Memorize Romans 15:13. This is my “guide” for my personal growth in 2016.

In addition to these goals, I am going to continue praying my guide verses and see where that leads me. Looking at the list, it seems like kind of a lot, but it’s all things I’m looking forward to. At the beginning of next month I’ll update you on how I did!

What are your goals for this month? I’d love to pray you through them! Leave a comment or shoot email to lifemeetsgrace@gmail.com!

Setting Goals with Grace: Guiding the Way

This week I'm talking about what happened when I prayed for my goal meeting process to meet grace. Stay tuned to the end of the post for a F-R-E-E workbook outlining how you can follow this process, too!

I do love setting goals every year, but don’t always/hardly ever meet them. This year, instead of putting together a huge list of resolutions, I wanted to really submit everything in prayer before I made my list of things to change. This seems so simple now that I’m writing it, but I don’t think that I’ve ever spent time in prayer before setting goals or guides for the year. I typically make my list of things I know I need to change (“Eat healthier” “Pray more”), then maybe pray one time over them. But this year, without really setting out to, I took a different approach.

I think my heart was prepping for this for a while—my year of dwelling really set my heart in a place where I just know I need God in able to do anything. I feel like my tendencies for perfectionism, while still tangled in this heart of mine, have been loosened as I spent this year learning about God and myself.

The very first thing I did, again, unintentionally, was start praying about a fresh start in early December. Nothing crazy, just a quick “God, please guide me to start fresh where you want me to this next year.”

Then early last week, when the word try wouldn’t leave my mind and before my work day started, I got out a piece of paper and wrote TRY in the middle, then wrote out categories for my life: Personal, Marriage, Finances, Spiritual, Creativity, Career, and Health. Throughout the day as I worked, I would write whatever came to my mind for these areas. All of them were realistic, but some were more ideas that goals. When I went home from work and looked over the paper, I saw some really broad ideas that made me so excited and hopeful.

I pared down these ideas into what I’m calling guides. For instance, under Spiritual Goals, I wrote that I really just want to fall in love with Jesus. That’s not really measureable or specific, but it really shows what I want to happen in my heart this year. All the other goals I wrote down in that category fall under this general idea.  So that was my guide for Spiritual Growth in 2016—all of my goals and ideas throughout the year, I want to help me fall in love with Jesus more.

My guides looked like this:

Spiritual: Fall in love with Jesus.

Health: Be strong.

Personal: Have joy.

Creativity: Commit to consistency.

Marriage: Be a support.

Career: Work diligently.

Finances: Be faithful.

Missions: Serve my community.

I mulled these over for a few days and talked about them with Chris, too (let me tell you, he absolutely LOVES goal talk…NOT!).  I really really didn’t want these goals to be just from or for me, another way I would keep striving to become the “Perfect” Woman. Instead I want to listen to what the Lord is asking from me, in my career or with my creativity or marriage and allow him to refine me. I want to be intentional to accomplish things that I feel like God is asking from me.

So, last Saturday, I woke up and instead of turning on the Pioneer Woman, I pressed record and then sat with my Bible, my journal, and my guides. I felt really great about the guides I had written out, so I set out to find verses that would match these and put them into perspective (aka about God’s glory and not about mine). I used Google search and my Bible to search these out, and here’s what I’ve got:

Spiritual: Isaiah 61:10 “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will exult my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”

Personal: Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Creativity: 1 Peter 4:10 “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

Marriage: Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.”  (Side note: I was surprised by how much I really wanted to find a different verse, but this is what God stuck on my heart and wouldn’t budge from. Looks like I have some learning to do in this area)

Career: Colossians 3:1 and 3:23 “Seek the things that are above…whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord.”

Finances: Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he had said, ‘Never will I leave you nor forsake you.’”

Missions: 1 Peter 4:10 “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

You’ll see Health is missing, because I’m struggling to find one there! I don’t want to take a verse out of context (i.e. Philipians 4:13 isn’t at all talking about working out), so I’m waiting on that one.

I was really surprised to see how God allowed me to find the perfect verses that really summarized what I wanted to ask for this year. And ask is right—I am going to put a lot of work in, but this year one thing I am trying is to pray boldly and frequently. I have a feeling God is going to move some mountains in my personal life this year, and my expectations are through the roof.

Another thing about these guides is that I am going to use the verses, instead of the original words I wrote, as my guides for goal setting in 2016. That way, each month when I look these over, I am reminded that God is the source of change and refinement in my life, not me.

I'm so pumped about goal setting this year that I outlined the process in a new workbook: Goals with Grace. It includes five days of worksheets guiding you to set goals with God's plans in mind. Click here to sign up for this FREE workbook!

 

Setting Goals with Grace: The Year of...

Towards the end of December, I started thinking and praying about a word for this next year or season to focus on. I wanted something that I could really sink into, whether that meant reading lots of books, word studies in Scripture, whatever. And what I came up with is super not that, and I love it.

I was reading this article by Kelsey Humphreys where she talks about dreams, and this paragraph really stuck out to me:

“When you start a blog, no one reads it but your mom. When you start performing at coffee shops, only your friends show up. When you start writing your novel, you’ll only have a few measly pages at first. Technology and the internet make everything seem fast and simple, but anything worth doing takes time and effort. I have seen many an excited dreamer start on their new project only to bail one month in because they didn’t anticipate just how lame starting actually is.” Source

It’s like she was giving me personal permission to put something out there that…isn’t super awesome at first. I can figure it out and get better as I go. And I know it’s kind of lame, but this year I am going to hold onto that. This year I am just going to…try.

To me, this means:

Not being afraid of being vulnerable or lame.

Having the self-discipline to follow through.

Trying something and not committing.

Being okay with lameness for a while.

This year I accidentally set some guides and goals for the year in a way that hasn’t left me overwhelmed or striving. Instead I am so hopeful and excited for what God’s going to do in 2016. Over the upcoming week, I want to outline the process I unintentionally did this year that I probably will carry into years to come. Part II of Setting Goals with Grace will come your way this Wednesday!