A Time To Be Kind

kindAs the news coverage from Hurricane Harvey continues showing catastrophic conditions in Texas, I find myself moved to tears at the kindness shown from so many to absolute strangers. What is it about KINDNESS that is so powerful? It really is selflessness at its best. Kindness is truly…love in action.

Showing kindness is a large part of what God meant life to be, yet so much is based on our availability. Simply put…Kindness takes time!

It’s so easy in our culture today to focus on just “Me and Mine” but God wants us to live with our eyes open to see the needs that are around us every day. He expects us to be available for the needs of others. Yet without margin in our lives, being available gets squeezed out.

Colossians 3:12 tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Clothe means we are to put on, to be intentional about.

As a task oriented person, God has been challenging me to build more margin into my life. To often, I tend to max out every moment of the day so that I accomplish everything on my “to do” list, but did I truly see and touch all those he had planned for me that day?

Kindness can be a word, an act of service, a hug, a shoulder to cry on or letting God’s love shine through you with a simple smile to others you cross paths with. It can also be that rare gift of giving someone your undivided attention instead of multitasking and partially listening. It could even be showing kindness and serving your family when you just want some ME time.

Two weeks ago, as I finished filling up my car with gas, I saw an elderly women struggling to get out of her car with her cane. I felt that nudge and was thankful I hadn’t packed my morning too full. I went over to see if I could help her. She told me how her husband was recovering from a stroke and this was the first time she had to fill up her car in years. I explained to her how “pay at the pump” worked, as I filled up her car while she shared with me about her recent health issues. As I helped her back into her car, I told her God loved her and how glad I was to be there to help her.

That was one morning I got it right and made me hungry to be the person who walks through life with eyes truly seeing every opportunity to be kind.

So as we enter this Fall season, let’s add a little margin into our days so we can respond to those little nudges inside our hearts to, “Find a need and fill it. Find a hurt and heal it”!

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Beautiful Scars

SophieScarIn a culture that is obsessed with beauty and perfection, hiding our flaws and scars can be a driving force in life. But why? Isn’t it our scars that make us who we are? Whether they are emotional scars or physical scars, they make up the story of who we are today.

My youngest daughter, Sophia has a beautiful 5 inch scar down her left knee. I chuckle because she totally rejected the Vitamin E oil I offered her to help heal and fade her scar after surgery. She had no desire to have it fade. She wears it with pride. Not so much because a torn ACL ended her high school lacrosse career and subsequent prospects of playing in college, but rather it reminds her how God reached down in His loving mercy and gave her some divine direction through the whole painful process.

As I reflect back on Easter just a few weeks ago, it’s so amazing to me to think about how Jesus’ resurrected body was healed, yet His scars remained. Jesus even allowed his disciples to trace his scars to give the hope and faith to believe again.

“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” John 20:27

Jesus understood that God often leaves the scars of our past wounds as evidence of His awesome power. You see, Scars are not ugly, but rather are evidence of God’s healing.

It is our scars that make us who we are today. They deepen our roots in Him and glorify the One who has brought us through them.

Jesus modeled for us how to encourage, inspire and give hope to those who are walking the same paths we have walked.

II Corinthians 1:3 “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 same comfort we ourselves have received from God.

So when God places someone in your life that needs to be reminded of God’s goodness and hope for a situation….let them trace your scars and be encouraged that they too, by Gods strength, will make it through.

Don’t hide your beautiful scars!!

 

Report Cards Are Coming!

report-card-a-plus-pencilHow’s your progress? I can vividly remember our girls getting their progress report in school. The progress report let us know what they needed to improve on before the report card came out at the end of the marking period. It served as a “wake-up call” to know if there were missed assignments, if more studying was required for the tests, or if extra credit was needed to get their grade to the desired “A” before time ran out.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God sent us progress reports periodically, to let us know how we are doing as a disciple of Christ? Yet, when Jesus walked the earth, He did tell us what we would be graded on.

Matthew 22:37-39 (TLB)

Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’

This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’

When life is over, God’s report cards will contains three categories that we will be graded on:

  • How did we relate to God?
  • How did we relate to ourselves?
  • How did we relate to others?

Is God at the center of our life? Are we loving him and living for him? Are we getting to know Him through the pages of Scripture? In this fast-paced world with so many distractions, we have to determine to keep Him first.

Are we loving ourselves? I know, this is one we tend to skip over and go right to loving our neighbors. But too many of us put ourselves down and neglect taking care of ourselves emotional and physically. We need to love ourselves because we are His daughters, fearfully and wonderfully made. We seek out self-respect; security and significance for ourselves then make sure our neighbor has those same things.

Our relationships give us an opportunity to show God’s love to others, starting with the ones that bring us delight or the ones we love out of duty, or even the ones that get on our last nerve. Jesus calls us to love and to serve.

Jesus came and died for all humanity. Let’s make sure we are “progressing well” by

being intentional to pour into our relationships and place a high priority on them.

If God put it at the top of His list, we should as well.

Relationships. Relationships. It’s why we are here. To love.

Living Your Dash

tombstoneRecently, after attending a funeral, I have been reminded of how fleeting life can be. That experience combined with turning the big 5-0 (fifty) in two weeks, has me quite contemplative, as I reflect on the seasons of my life and the impact for Christ I want to leave behind.

The book of James tells us that our life is but a vapor! Our life on this earth is so momentary. I love how Psalms 39:4-5 puts it,

“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is.”

It’s important that we remind ourselves that we are never promised tomorrow and that we should spend our days on things that truly matter….God and people.

This is one of my favorite poems:

The Dash

by Linda Ellis copyright 1996

“I read of a man who stood to speak

At the funeral of a friend.

He referred to the dates on her tombstone

From the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came her date of birth

And spoke the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all

Was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time

That she spent alive on earth…

And now only those who loved her

Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own;

The cars…the house…the cash,

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard…

Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left,

That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough

To consider what’s true and real,

And always try to understand

The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,

And show appreciation more

And love the people in our lives

Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,

And more often wear a smile…

Remembering that this special dash

Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy’s being read

With your life’s actions to rehash…

Would you be proud of the things they say

About how you spent your dash?”

It not the things we get in this life but the hearts we touch, that will determine the success of our “Dash”.

Let’s make our lives count for God. When we draw our last breath, let’s make sure this world is a different place because we allowed God to love through us, as we were HIS hands and feet extended to the people in our world!!!

Let our prayer be Psalms 90:12 (TLB) “Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.” ~Susie

Seasoning Through the Seasons

seasonsLiving in the Hudson Valley of New York, we experience all four wonderful season. There is nothing like the beautiful artistry of our Heavenly Father, as He paints the landscape with such beauty! As the last of the leaves hang on the trees, we gear up for the winter season.

The last few months have been a season of new experiences. When we dropped all three of our daughters off this past August for college, my husband and I embarked on a new season. This season included ministry trips to Cayman Islands and Eastern Europe. For me, dreams that God put in my heart 30 years ago finally came to pass in His timing, this season.

I love Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, it describes a seasonal perspective to life.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

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 from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

Timing is important. All the experiences listed in these verses are appropriate at certain times. The secret to peace with God is to discover, accept, and appreciate His perfect timing. The danger is to doubt or resent God’s perfect timing, which can lead to despair, resentment, or moving ahead without His guidance.

What is your “Big Ask?” A “Big Ask” is the dream your heart most desires, your deepest longing. Sometimes, the only one who knows your big ask is God.

I believe that “wait training” ultimately prepares us for that dream. God knows exactly how to use the times of waiting for our good and for His glory.

The reality of life on earth is that we are always waiting for something. Always hoping.   Always dreaming. The challenge is to keep our hope alive in the middle of circumstances we don’t like so much.

So although the season of life can march on, it is good to rest in the fact that He, who put dreams in our hearts, will bring them about in His timing. It would be helpful if He gave us the timetable that went along with the dreams, but perhaps He knows we have some growing to do “in the mean time”.

As we crossed back over the Atlantic Ocean on our home from Eastern Europe, I found myself fighting back tears, thinking of God’s faithfulness. It is amazing to know that regardless of our season of life, our identity and who we are in Christ remains the same. So we need to know who we are in Christ and be that person with confidence, no matter what season of life we find ourselves in.

She is like a tree planted beside streams—a tree that produces fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither. She succeeds in everything she does. Psalms 1:3 (GW)

Who Is The Boss Of YOU?

WhiteFlagLordship, who is in charge of your life? It’s been a question our youngest daughter has been asking since she could speak. We are taking her to college this week. So while I’ve been reminiscing of her younger years, I chuckle as I remember what she would always tell her sisters and peers, “You not the boss of me!” She hated anyone telling her what to do. Her entire orientation to life was who could or couldn’t tell her what to do. She would recount after lots of parental training, “Daddy & Mommy are the boss of me, God is the boss of me, and my teachers are the boss of me.” She just had to know where the boundaries of authority were, because she liked to be in control of her life and was “Trained” to know who had a right to speak into her life.

Similarly, aren’t we all at, our core, programed to look out for number one and to live life on our terms? Thanks to Adam and Eve, we all come into this world with a sin nature that drives us to look at life through the lens of “self”. Our default is selfishness. But as a follower of Christ, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. It’s a life of being “trained” to look out for the interests of others over our own and to learn to seek God with all our heart.

What does does it look like when God is “The Boss” of your life? As a Christ follower, we chose to give up our rights to do what we want to do and say what we want to say. We choose to surrender. Interestingly, there are no levels of surrender, we are either surrendered to God or we are not. Jesus calls for complete commitment. A surrendered life should reflect Christ in our lives. To say that we are a Christ’s follower should mean something. It should be reflected in our attitudes, words, and actions.

Let us all be challenged to wave that white flag of surrender to our Lord and Master. Jesus, you ARE the Boss of me! I will do it your way in my finances, in my parenting in my marriage, with my words, with my attitudes, and with the people you place across my path. Let’s determine once and for all “Who is the boss of me”!

School Daze

SchoolDazeYesterday, our youngest daughter completed her last day of high school. She graduates next week, ushering our family into a brand new season. As I started counting up, I realized we have been in this season for 16 years. I still vividly remember the start of this wonderful season, dropping off our oldest for her first day of kindergarten, with a preschooler and a toddler in the minivan. It has been a wonderful season full of uniforms, field trips, parent conference, field days, progress reports, helping with homework, packing lunches, driving them everywhere, school volunteering, Regents testing, football games, field hockey & lacrosse, SATs and just watching them blossom!!

Would I want to go back? Sure, maybe for a day to soak in all in again, but I’m more excited for them, as they launch out into the world as a young adults.

I have heard it said, that perspective is the ability to stand between yesterday and tomorrow and understand how and where today fits in. I think that is so important in parenting. My husband and I have reminded ourselves continually of the goal parenting: to raise our children to follow God and release them into their destinies. Sometimes, what we are dealing with as parents can be so demanding that we can not see past tomorrow, but perspective has given us the ability to endure the drudgery and demands of parenting, knowing we are building toward that goal.

As we close this chapter, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the privilege of being a mom. I can honestly say I have no regrets, just excitement to watch the next season of life unfold for our girls.

Things I’ve learned during the “school days” season:

  • Parenting is truly a partnership. We partner with our Heavenly Father who entrusted them to our care to raise them with a heart to love and serve Him. We have asked for wisdom to guide our girls more times than I can remember. Living with the mindset that they are on loan to us, has helped us navigate well through the season.
  • It’s a season to grow up. Nothing spurs us on toward being our best, than knowing we have little lives that are soaking up our every action and attitude. It’s been a “grow up” time for me as well as a time to deal with some of my “stuff”. Knowing that I was their example of being a disciple of Christ, a godly wife, loving mother and a good friend to others, always kept my heart open to God changing me & overcoming my selfishness.
  • I can’t do it all but I can do what’s important. That goal isn’t to be Supermom, climbing atop the pedestal of perfection, but rather keeping the main thing the main thing. Committing to what is truly important and recognizing what is unimportant is a constant focus. Especially in the teen years, it’s so important that you aren’t so busy doing, that you miss being dialed into their lives and maintaining a good relationship with them.
  • Being in control is a myth. I learned early on that trying to take charge of all events and issues in my girls’ lives only led to frustration and disappointment. My trust in God has grown as a Mom, living with the understanding that I can place situations into the loving hands of our Heavenly Father, who is sovereign and in control of all things. The white-knuckle grip on my girls wasn’t good for them or me.
  • God meets us in the valley. Sure there are some difficult and trying times, but as I would lean into God, He gave me the grace & strength that is sufficient for every trial, hardship & challenge of raising my girls.
  • God’s mercies are new every morning and mine need to be too. There were times when I needed to forgive our girls. Whether for pushing me to my limit, not being honest, disappointing me, or just not being loving. God calls me to forgive as He has forgiven me. Love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, believes the best, endures all things … just to name of few (Check out 1 Corinthians 13). So, if I wake up with a chip on my shoulder and it is only 7:30am, then I need to spend time forgiving.

As the mother of a school age child put it:

“I love Autumn. It’s my favorite time of year, but I felt frustrated that it is such a brief season until I realized that its beauty is so poignant because summer and winter frame it. Each stage of life has its immense wonder, yet they all must move on. It is only in the moving on that we can fully appreciate what has passed.”

Let’s grow and enjoy whatever season we are in.

Forget About Being Perfect

ForgetPerfectI would classify myself as an overcoming perfectionist. I say overcoming, because I have found a great measure of peace, joy & rest in my life, thanks to God and His great love. However, during the seasons of college, young married life, and mother of small children that was not the case. I cringe when I remember the treadmill of overachieving that was the bars of my self-imposed prison. It seemed that I was always “2 steps ahead” of my present moment. I lived in the future, marching on to the next thing that had to be done.

Perfectionists reject “average” as one step above failure, setting the bar so high that they are constantly exhausted from trying to reach it. Perfectionism is a ruthless taskmaster that strips away your confidence and leaves you with self-defeating thoughts. It causing you to create outrageous to-do lists, have paralysis in agonizing over every decision, or emotionally flogging yourself when you make a mistake.

I use to push myself to live beyond my personal limitations because the inner critic inside of me would never be silent. Today, as a family, we laugh about the heights, I would attempt in just pulling off birthday events for our daughters. I say “event” because it was way over the norm for a child’s party. Yes, I am embarrassed to admit, they included over the years: ponies, farm animals, tea parties and so many guest, that I rarely enjoyed taking in the moment with our daughters on their special day.

I was trapped in the performance of trying to be perfect. My husband Greg, would say I was DRIVEN. Driven, is different from the saner qualities of faithfulness, attention to detail, and simple hard work. It is more complicated. Driven, is the overriding compulsion to achieve and accomplish, to stay busy and stay needed by others as a means to gain personal satisfaction and to overcome feelings of shame and inadequacy. It springs from a hotbed of insecurity that makes a person say ‘Yes’ to nearly every opportunity and request; it’s when what you achieve is necessary to validate your life. Being driven costs the people you love most, as you strive to make them accomplish more as well, in the over-the-top life you lead.

In addition to being driven at home, I can remember returning from far too many Women’s events that I had planned, feeling guilty for being in my driven task mode, instead of connecting with the hearts of our women.

Psalms 51:6 says, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

I began to recognize that behind my perfectionism was a lie that I believed. My lie was: “I’m not good enough or worthy enough”, so I was driven to prove otherwise.

My slow metamorphosis wasn’t a result of more white-knuckled determination and will power. It wasn’t from trying harder. It came from changing my perception of God, others and myself.

I will never forget my “Aha moment”. God spoke to my heart, “Susie, you have an A+ in my book and you don’t have to do anything to earn that status (Being a Valedictorian, I knew the effort that went into achieving a 4.0.)

As my Heavenly Father continued to remind me that it was Jesus’ assignment—not mine—to be perfect, He invited me to trust in a love that does not depend upon my performance. Living with an understanding of that reality, gradually started setting me free from the exhausting drive of perfectionism. I began to give myself permission to slow down and take life at a more realistic pace.

So how about you, are you a perfectionist?

If you are anything like me, you might feel some resistance to naming perfectionism. To help you determine if perfectionism has crept into your life, I’d encourage you to prayerfully consider the following questions:

  1. How easy is it for you to say “No”?
  2. Are you comfortable asking for help or only offering it?
  3. Are you able to receive appropriate criticism without getting defensive?
  4. Are you willing to try new activities when others are present?
  5. Do you have a nagging belief that you are falling short of some illusive standard?
  6. Do you harshly critique yourself?
  7. Are you able to experience joy?

Being a “Doer” is a part of our wiring and the world certainly needs us “doers” to make things happen. It’s not the list and the tasks that are problematic, it’s the motivation behind them. To really transform, we perfectionists have to do constant, heart-checks about our activities.

The good news is, we can learn to break the perfectionism cycle.

But on a practical level, steering clear of perfectionism means we have to be mindful of our tendencies and identify our triggers.

Here are some tips to stop the negative cycle:

  • Recognize when you are trying to do too much
  • Redefine the standards of living that are causing stress for you
  • Allow others to help you, even if they don’t do things exactly the way you would
  • Be kind to yourself (laugh at your mistakes, forgive yourself)
  • Sometimes “good enough” is okay
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff (it’s so very true)
  • Take breaks to play – it increases your productivity
  • Accept yourself for who you are – a work in progress
  • Remind yourself of Jesus’s example. (People trumped tasks every time)
  • Set your goal on excellence not perfection.

I want to close with the following quote that shows a world of difference between compares striving for excellence over perfection.

Excellence vs. Perfection

“Excellence is willing to be wrong. Perfection is being right.

Excellence is risk. Perfection is fear.

Excellence is powerful. Perfection is anger & frustration.

Excellence is spontaneous. Perfection is control.

Excellence is accepting. Perfection is judgment.

Excellence is giving. Perfection is taking.

Excellence is confident. Perfection is pressure.

Excellence is journey. Perfection is destination.”

Enjoy the journey!!

~~Susie

Mentoring Today for Tomorrow

child-reading-bible-small-845x321Titus 2:4…Teaching them to love their children.

When you hear that first cry of your little one coming into this world, you are hit with the magnitude of the awesome privilege and responsibility you have to care for, nurture, and to teach your child to be ready for life.

It is so easy to get consumed with the day-to-day care of our children. The busyness of: feeding, clothing, instructing, helping with homework, and playing taxicab, that we forget that “loving them” also means that we are to be their spiritual mentor.

God through Moses, gives us some pointers in Deuteronomy 6:5-7 on how to let spiritual training of our kids be a natural part of our days, seasons & years.

I love how the Message translations says it…

Love GOD, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children.

Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.

 As human beings, transformation for us doesn’t come by simply downloading information into the brain in the same way that a computer can download a file from the internet… we don’t just simply go to church every week and “download” the message or teaching into our children’s brains.

Rather, the idea in Deut. 6, is that God’s Word would be applied throughout every moment of every day, affecting their minds, hearts, actions, and bodies throughout the week. It takes actively and repeatedly engaging their whole person over time.

In other words, God wants us to live out our relationship with Christ, in full view, showing our children what Jesus at the center of a life looks like.

Let’s be honest, training a child takes time. It means putting thought and energy into teaching our children acceptable behavior, in a wide variety of social situations and preparing them for the realities of life. It’s instilling in them a love for God and the desire to follow Him.

As I reflect over the years of parenting our three daughters, my mind is flooded with memories of my husband and I intentionally mentoring our girls by; telling Bible stories, snuggling on the couch for family devotions, pointing out God in action as we went about our day. As our girls have gotten older, we’ve discussed books we recommended they read and have had countless conversations about what is going on in their lives. Most importantly, as they became teenagers…we shared stories from our own lives, of how God was true to us, ways in which we blew it big time, and struggles we prayed they would never have to go through.

The pull in our culture is so strong to be the best! To be the best academically, to excel at sports, that we are DRIVEN to give them all these experiences.

This August, my husband and I will be officially “Empty Nesters”, as we settle our 3rd daughter in for college life as a freshman. Having done it twice before with our other two girls, I can promise you that as you wave goodbye and the tears start coming, you aren’t wishing you had one more game or recital to take them to. Rather, you are praying that you did all God required of you to make sure they were ready for life and have developed a relationship with the Living God, that will sustain through this journey called life.

“Father, I pray for all Mothers today. That they may have to courage rise up, see the “Big Picture” and instill a powerful and present love for Jesus Christ in their children for today, and for the rest of their days to come. Amen.”

Who’s Following You?

FollowLeaderOne of the wonderful things in this life, is that no matter what season we embark on, there is always a person we can model or pattern our life after.

As I am about to embark this Fall on the “Empty Nest” season, my mind returns regularly to the start of my motherhood journey.

There were several moms I observed and thought, “I want to be that kind of mom”. I would study her closely, ask questions when possible and prayed God would give me the grace to be that kind of mom.

The awesome news is, God wants us all to be examples… to model to those who are observing our lives.

And we all have a choice…. Will we be a godly example to be imitated or the example that women want to avoid?

I remember back in high school, college and as a young married woman starting off in ministry, the verse that inspired me and fueled my passion was 1 Timothy 4:12,

Don’t let anyone look down on you for being young. Instead, make your speech, behavior, love, faith, and purity an example for other believers.

It doesn’t matter the season of life, there is always someone coming behind us…watching…asking….Do I want what she’s got?

Through 25 years of marriage and raising 3 awesome daughters (which is motivation in itself – to be a pattern for their lives), Titus 2 has always sounded the challenge to step up.

Titus 2:3-5

Tell older women to live their lives in a way that shows they are dedicated to God. Tell them not to be gossips or addicted to alcohol, but to be examples of virtue. In this way they will teach young women to show love to their husbands and children, to use good judgment, and to be morally pure. Also, tell them to teach young women to be homemakers, to be kind, and to place themselves under their husbands’ authority. Then no one can speak evil of God’s word.

Recently, a friend of mine who was struggling in her marriage, told me, when she faced challenges, she would always ask herself this question. “What would Susie do?”

I was so humbled!

I told her it was the highest compliment, she could ever give me, just knowing that my walk with God inspired her and served as a road map.

Somehow, it makes the challenges we face and the mountains we scale in this life -through God’s empowerment, all worth it…just knowing it helped someone.

I saw a quote a couple of years ago that has so inspired me.

Some people come into our lives and quietly go. Others stay awhile, and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.

The Apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ!”

Who’s following you?

What are you modeling?

We only get one chance at this thing called life—so let’s live on PURPOSE and be intentionally!!

“Father God, make us a person who leaves footprints on people’s lives. We don’t want to be the person who comes and goes with no lasting impact. Because of contact with us, may people never be the same again. May we be the person who intentionally and lastingly influences others. Amen.”