Hindsight on 2020: Three Things I See Clearly Now

Hindsight on 2020: Three Things I See Clearly Now

Speechless.

That’s how I’ve felt this year more times than I can count. Other than journaling, I’ve written very little.

I’ve experienced all the feelings – fear, contentment, anxiety, peace, sorrow, happiness, disappointment, hope. Processing rogue emotions with Jesus and landing back on solid ground has felt like a full-time job.

But hindsight is 20/20, they say (whoever they are.) As I look back on the past 364 days, three things have become unmistakably clear to me.

  1. 2020 has been hard.

Sometimes we Christians avoid speaking candidly about negative things. We fear being coined a complainer or labeled as someone who’s selfish or has weak faith. We even shy away from bringing raw emotions to God because we know He wants us to be grateful and to trust Him in both good times and bad.

But an honest acknowledgement is often the first step in processing our emotions, confronting our doubts, and moving deeper in our faith – a depth we’ll never experience if we simply gloss over our struggles.

2020 has been hard. We’ve all felt the sting of cancelling long-anticipated plans. We’ve been lonely, stir crazy as the hours tick by in the walls we’re mandated to stay within.

Our family lost a friend we loved as our own and the tears just come up without warning. We’ve self-quarantined three times, on top of the state-wide shut-down which grounded us all this spring. We’ve endured the discomfort of the covid19 test four times more than we’d like. We’ve worried about paying the bills during weeks when my husband has had to stay home.

This year has had more than its share of anxiety, disappointment, and pain.

But ours is a gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6). He understands our feelings because He’s felt them, too – both as an emotive God and more specifically, as the God-man who walked among us for thirty-three years. He can sympathize with our weakness, our heartache, and our discouragement.

He invites His own to come to Him boldly and pour out everything stirring in our souls.

Will you take Him up on His invitation?

2. 2020 has seen God “up to great good.”

Midway through the pandemic, I enjoyed a phone meeting with my dear mentor. We talked about the hardships and frustrations we’d faced that spring and then she said, “But God is up to great good here.”

Our conversation screeched to a halt as I paused to consider her words. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard her say that. It’s kind of like her mantra. But I’d lost sight of it in the mess of 2020. I asked her to help me see some good, because my faith was anything but strong at that moment.

She told me a story or two of lives she’d seen touched by the redemptive power of God’s presence. Her faith bolstered mine and my vision improved.

It wasn’t long before I, too, could see God’s goodness weaving through our year – His work in drawing our family closer, His nudge toward slowing down, His miracles in meeting our physical needs and watering the seeds of my kids’ faith.

Sometimes we need a good friend to help us refocus when our own lens of faith goes fuzzy.

Who is that friend in your life?

If you don’t have such a friend right now, it’s okay – God is the Friend who sticks even closer than family. He’ll gladly point out His goodness if we ask Him.

3. 2021 has a clear forecast.

Even as I type those words, I struggle to believe they’re true. Humanly speaking, the year ahead looks like storm clouds and more rain. Our troubles aren’t going to vanish when the clock strikes midnight.

But as Jesus-followers, we’re not limited to our human perspective. Thank goodness, because fear tends to suffocate my soul if I look too long through my own lenses.

As we turn our hearts toward Jesus and seek shelter near His heart, He readjusts our focus to see more of what He sees.

Here’s the clear forecast for 2021:

  • God won’t change. We can anchor our souls to the reliability of His character and His Word.
  • God will always be up to great good. Whatever troubles come, Jesus is greater and in Him, we overwhelmingly conquer.
  • God won’t forget us or leave us on our own. His wisdom, His power, His very presence are available to us every moment of every day.

As we step into this near year, let’s set our hearts anew to seek this God whose nearness is our good (Psalm 73:28). More than anything, we need Him.

I’m planning to set aside a day (or portion of a day) in January to get alone with God. In case you’d like to do this, too, check out “Planning a Retreat with God” in my Freebie Library to help you make the most of that time.

Happy New Year!

Camouflaged Blessings

Camouflaged Blessings

My son loves to wear camouflage.

He’s never been hunting a day in his life, but he dreams that someday he will go. Recently, he told his daddy he wishes they could go moose hunting in Alaska. (I mean, why not start big?)

We’re city people so when my boy wears his camo, it’s more for fashion than functionality. He loves the style, and I love him for it. For many people, though, camouflage has very practical purposes, providing the element of disguise and preventing the person from being seen.

As I type these words, we’re several weeks into a statewide lockdown due to the spread of the coronavirus. My husband has been off work for the past three weeks. And as a family, we’re each dealing with various emotions and grieving significant disappointments.

For us, this is a time of weakness.

We can’t predict what tomorrow holds. Any semblance of control has been stripped away. We trust that God will give us our daily bread (Matthew 6:11), but if I’m being honest, I like the idea of monthly bread better. I prefer a stocked pantry and a sufficient bank account.

I don’t like this emotional roller coaster of the what-ifs that so often invade my mind. Yet repeatedly during these days, God impresses on my heart that it’s good to be in need.

These are camouflaged blessings, these weaknesses which remind us we need God.

Paul understood this reality when he declared, [God] said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT).

Uncertain days are rich with opportunities for God to show up. A life outside our control reminds us of the good God who’s always in control.  Let’s embrace the eternity hidden in these days and point our kids to the God who still works miracles.

Here are some practical tips:

• Pray for awareness

Several months ago, before the Coronavirus became a pandemic, I asked our kids how they’ve seen God answer prayer. Pondering the silence that met my question, I realized how infrequently we pray about specific needs. We pray generally for missionaries and for salvation for the lost. But when we need something, we often look for ways to meet it ourselves. I began asking God to make us aware of our needs so we can see Him working as our provider.

Prayerfully take inventory of your needs—physical, emotional, and spiritual. Make a list or write down each item individually on index cards.

• Talk to God about each need

Using that list or those index cards, pray as a family about each item. Ask for His perspective and for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you pray.

• Anticipate His provision

Remind yourself of His promises. Here are a few of my favorites:

“And my God shall meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19, NIV.)

“…Your Father already knows your needs. Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” (Luke 12:30-31, NLT).

“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion…” (2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV).

Write down your favorite verses and display them around the house for encouragement. Choose to worship Him as you wait—singing your favorite praise songs, thanking Him for the blessings He’s already given, remembering what you know to be true of Him.• Reach out to others in need

There’s great joy in serving other people as a family, even when we have our own needs. Ask God to point out ways He wants to use you to invest in the lives of others. Pray for those needs and serve however in whatever ways He leads.

Our greatest needs are often camouflaged blessings, setting the stage for God to work powerfully on our behalf. Let’s seize these opportunities to grow closer to Him as a family. Let’s remind ourselves of His trustworthiness and walk by faith in these uncertain times.

Carried Close to His Heart

Carried Close to His Heart

How do you think God feels about you?

Is His love swayed by your productivity? Must you work hard to keep Him happy? Do you wonder if He’s disappointed with your struggles and frustrated by your frailty?

Joining us today on this topic is my dear friend, Lori Hatcher. Yesterday, she launched her newest book Refresh Your Faith, Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible. (Grab your own copy here.)

The following post comes from her book, based on a passage from Isaiah.*

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

(Isaiah 40:11)

The early chapters of the Book of Isaiah begin with cinematography that would make the most epic 3-D film look like a kindergartener’s cartoon.

Isaiah describes smoke, thunderous noise, and angelic multitudes crying out in praise before almighty God in his temple. His heavenly glimpse
of God in his throne room fills him with awe and fear. “Woe to me!” he cries. “I am ruined!”

Other Scriptures reinforce this image of God, describing him as the Conquering King, Righteous Judge, Mighty Warrior, and Powerful Sovereign. It describes how the oceans churn or quiet at God’s command. One word from God speaks the world into existence. Another has the power to send it up in smoke. With a flick of his mighty arm, thunderbolts fly from heaven. An angry glance from his all-seeing eyes causes the earth to swallow those who disobey his commands.

“See,” Isaiah 40:10 says, “the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and this arm rules for him.”

No doubt about it, God is strong. And God is active.

I’ve always admired these attributes of God (even though I find them more than slightly terrifying), because I like strength and activity. I’m a doer, not a sitter, character traits that fit well with my assumption that God expected me to be like him and work hard on his behalf.

But then I had children.

And my busy, do-lots-of-stuff-for-God life came to a screeching halt. Forget teaching a class, working on the bus ministry, or helping with every function the church sponsored. I could barely get myself and my baby dressed and out the door to attend worship on Sundays.

Then my baby had colic (which I wouldn’t subject any nursery worker in the world to). After colic, she had separation anxiety. She was three years old before she’d go into a toddler class so I could attend adult Sunday school again.

Six months later, her sister was born, and I was back to barely
making it to church on Sundays.

My days of do-it-all ministry had come to an end. As far as the kingdom was concerned, I was useless.

A taker instead of a giver.

A dead weight on the gospel ship.

My heart sank to think how disappointed God must be with me. Then I read Isaiah 40:11:

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

Suddenly, I understood that the Mighty Warrior was also a tender shepherd.

The Conquering King stoops down to lift the fragile and the frail.

The Righteous Judge carries his children, not as a burden on his back, but as a treasure near his heart.

The Powerful Sovereign gently leads those who are emotionally tender and physically sapped – and boy, did that describe me in those early childrearing years.

Through Isaiah’s beautiful picture of God, I learned I didn’t have to be productive for God to love me. I didn’t have to perform to earn his favor. I was free to accept what I saw as my season of “inactivity,” knowing that God had not only ordained it, but had a good plan for it.

In his tenderness, he would carry me through my season of mothering if I would rest in him and allow him to lead me.

Isaiah’s picture of God gently leading those with young gave me permission to be frail and vulnerable, knowing that he wouldn’t drive me with his rod, but lead me with his shepherd’s crook.

My children are grown now, and I’m “busy” for the Lord again. As I look back on those childrearing years, I see that they were not fruitless. Once I realized that different seasons of life bring new (and often different) opportunities to minister, I was free to embrace each season instead of chafe at it.

I learned to look for ways to be Jesus’ hands and feet wherever I was, knowing that each day was ripe with potential. And I never again worried that I wasn’t productive enough to satisfy him.

I rested in the fact that the Great I AM is not frustrated by our frailties or impatient with our humanity. Instead, he willingly takes the place of a shepherd to lead with us through our earthly journey.

Uncommon Thought
The Great I AM is not frustrated by our frailties or impatient with our humanity. Instead, he willingly takes the place of a shepherd to lead with us through our earthly journey.

Unusual Faith
Think a moment about your perception of God. Do you see him as a stern taskmaster, demanding and hard to please?

Or do you see him as a shepherd, gentle and understanding toward your frailties? Do you feel as though you never measure up? That you can’t do enough to please him, especially if you’re in a season of life when you feel unproductive?

Spend time meditating on Isaiah 40:11. Imagine yourself as the lamb the prophet writes about. Picture yourself in the arms of the Savior, carried close to his heart.

Ask God to lead you into a greater understanding of his love and care for you. Then follow where he leads you, trusting that he will use you for his glory, no matter what season of life you’re in.

Unfamiliar Passage
Read Isaiah 40:9-13.

*(A Sample Devotion from Refresh Your Faith, Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible by Lori Hatcher)

Lori Hatcher is a pastor’s wife who lives delightfully close to her four grandchildren in Lexington, South Carolina. She’s the author of several devotional books including  Refresh Your Faith – Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible(Our Daily Bread Publishing) and Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women , the 2016 Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year. The editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine, she’s also a blogger, writing instructor, and inspirational speaker. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time . Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).

Facing the Coronavirus Like a Brand New Bike Rider

Facing the Coronavirus Like a Brand New Bike Rider

Two weeks ago, our littlest learned to ride her bike.

She’d been on bicycle-riding strike for several months, ever since her daddy took her training wheels off. He knew she was ready and hoped a gentle push would help her learn to ride on her own. For a while, she wasn’t having it. Until two weeks ago, when she finally decided to give it a try.

And she got it.

She was so ready. On Monday she rode several feet without help. On Tuesday she learned to turn the bike around in one smooth-ish motion. On Wednesday she perfected starting and stopping. And by the weekend, she was riding like a pro.

As I watched my husband coach her on bike-riding safety, one of his comments struck a chord in my heart. “Don’t look at the building you’re trying to avoid, or you’ll run into it. Keep your eyes on where you’re going.”

I needed that advice.

Because right now, I’m awfully tempted to stare at the madness surrounding us. I literally had to talk myself out of panicking during a recent trip to the grocery store. All those empty shelves. All those scurrying people. The what-if’s pressed in and with them, the fear.

I’ve never experienced uncertainty to this level before.

There’s nothing like a worldwide pandemic to make me realize how much I worship comfort and normality. To help me see that my soul’s peace is tangled up in predictable circumstances and a sense of being in control.

As the country started shutting down, I grabbed my journal and began processing my roller coaster emotions with God. After I poured out my heart to Him, He led me to Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (emphasis mine).

In these unstable times, God is calling His beloved ones to fix our attention on Jesus.

In the Bible’s original Greek, fixing one’s eyes means

“To turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something.”

Blue Letter Bible Lexicon

I don’t know about you, but my feelings have run the gamut over the past two weeks. I’ve been confused, afraid, and overwhelmed. I’ve felt happy to stay at home and thrilled with the extra family time. I’ve been bored, depressed, and restless. Today I’m just plain weary.

Lots of things are vying for our attention.

So like my little bicyclist with her gaze straight ahead, I’m choosing to glance at what’s going on around and within – listening to the news reports, heeding the CDC’s directives, working through my emotions with God – but then I’m turning my heart’s focus back to Jesus.

Not that it’s easy. But it is a conscious choice. One that takes coming back to, day after very long day, moment after mundane moment.

Because really, how we walk through these days is a matter of faith.

Will we choose to bring our fears and our feelings to God? Will we hold onto the promises of His Word? Will we focus on Jesus and trust His heart and His plan?

He alone can anchor our souls through this storm. So right now, let’s guide our hearts back to rest by looking at Jesus (See Psalm 116:7):

  • He is our Source of Peace (Romans 16:20).  
  • He’s our Helper and the One who sustains us (Psalm 54:4).
  • He is our stability through these times (Isaiah 33:6).
  • He never changes (James 1:17).  
  • His steadfast love and faithfulness bookend each day (Psalm 92:2).
  • He stores up abundant good things for those who honor Him (Psalm 31:19).
  • He will complete the work He’s doing in us (Philippians 1:6).
  • He’ll bring good out of absolutely everything that touches His kids’ lives (Romans 8:28).
  • He’ll provide for our every need (Philippians 4:19).
  • He has the final say, despite unpredictable viruses and even human free will (1 Peter 3:22).

Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus and step boldly into each new day, knowing our God is for us (Romans 8:31), and with us (Matthew 28:20), and in us (1 John 4:4).

What other qualities of Jesus are you resting in right now? I’d love to hear! Please comment below.

Helping Our Kids Thrive When Life is Hard

Helping Our Kids Thrive When Life is Hard

What will our kids remember from these history-making times in which we’re living?

As the Coronavirus spreads across the globe, our kids are trying to make sense of things, just as we parents are. They hear the news stories. They see the empty grocery store shelves. They wonder if someone they know will come down with the virus next. They feel the loneliness of social distancing and worry that their summer plans may end up cancelled before this is all over.

How can we help them thrive and build positive memories of these days spent at home?

You may have heard the following saying:

“People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Carl W. Buechner

Right now, the days are rich with opportunities to help our kids experience the following emotions:

  • Enjoyed

Extended time at home means lots of togetherness. Instead of being distracted, each on our own device, let’s be intentional about having fun together. Dust off those board games. Bake some cookies with your kids. Pull out your favorite childhood books and read them aloud. Enjoy a picnic in the backyard and play frisbee while you’re out there.

  • Thankful

It’s all too easy to focus on what we’re missing and fixate on what we don’t have. But now’s a great time to take inventory of all the good things we do enjoy. Give each family member an index card and take time to count your blessings. Add to this list each day.

  • Secure

The world may be in a panic and people may be stockpiling toilet paper, but at home, let’s cultivate a feeling of security and camaraderie. Invite open conversations where everyone can freely discuss what they’re thinking and feeling. Remind each other often of your love. Seek to create a haven where each person feels safe, understood, and encouraged to thrive.

  • Hopeful

This won’t be the only time our kids face scary situations. How we handle things now can prepare them to face the future with confidence. Remind each other of ways you’ve seen God answer prayer. Talk often of His faithfulness in the past – both to you and to other believers. (Reading missionary stories is a great way to do this.*)

Above all, keep coming back to Jesus as our Rock in unstable times (Psalm 61:2). Read the Psalms together and discuss what you learn about Him there. Spend time praying with one another. Verbalize your faith that God works all things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

The days ahead are rich with family-building, faith-cultivating opportunities. With intentionality, we can help our kids feel enjoyed, thankful, secure, and full of hope.

They’ll remember these feelings for the rest of their lives.

*Christian Heroes: Then and Now and the Trailblazer Books are our family’s favorite missionary story series.

Grace, and Why It’s Amazing

Grace, and Why It’s Amazing

What comes to mind when you hear the word grace?

Do you think of a formal church service? Maybe a girl’s name? If asked to define it, what would you say?church-3250118_1280

Those who grew up in Sunday School might remember the acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Maybe you’ve heard some other catchy definition. Maybe you really aren’t sure.

I’ve heard about grace my whole life (something for which I’m incredibly thankful). But amazing didn’t really describe how I felt about it.

I was a good girl. Sure, God had forgiven my sins – at five years old. But my kindergartener shortcomings didn’t seem all that significant. Even during my teen and young adult years, I never did anything too bad.

So the grace we discussed at church only seemed amazing when I heard stories about drug addicts and ex-cons coming to faith. For people like that, grace truly was amazing. For me, though, I just didn’t feel it. Not only did I not do the really bad stuff, I spent my life doing lots of good stuff – having daily quiet times, leading Bible studies, teaching my kids about Jesus…

Because of my goodness, the amazingness of grace was lost on me.

Until that good girl life crumbled and I couldn’t keep up with my checklist Christianity. In that season of survival when I had nothing good to offer God, I felt His favor like never before. Suddenly, I saw the repulsiveness of my self-righteous Christianity, the utter inadequacy of my good deeds to earn His smile.

Suddenly, I began to understand grace.

Through all those years of pride and performance-based faith, God knew the depths of my heart. He saw the judgment with which I looked at others. He recognized how unimpressed I was with His blood-purchased grace.

Yet He loved me.

That is the essence of grace.

For the self-righteous and the unrighteous, grace is the key to understanding our Father’s heart. It’s an inseparable part of His nature, the basis on which He relates to us.

If your view of grace leaves you uninspired, maybe a fresh perspective will jump-start your heart as it did mine.

Our pastor recently gave this definition:

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If you imagine God’s face as He looks at you, what expression do you see?

Do you see Someone excited to lavish you with good gifts? Is He favorably disposed toward you? Do kindness and generosity radiate from His eyes? Do you feel Him drawing you close, not to give you tomorrow’s to-do list, but to just be? Be close, be loved, be renewed, be transformed…

Or do you feel it’s up to you to keep yourself close to Him, to make yourself want Him, to grow and produce fruit so He’ll be happy with you? Must you earn His grace by trying hard to be humble, or is humility merely the recognition that you can’t?

Grace is only grace if we don’t deserve it (for both unbelievers and those who know Him). It flows freely, abundantly, exponentially from the heart of our God.

“For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

Unexplainable, illogical, even scandalous by human standards, this grace is woven into every facet of our relationship with God.

You are deeply loved, daughter of grace. Your Father delights in you. He is lavish in kindness, abundant in power, persistent in His pursuit of your heart.

Grace is yours if you are His.

Rest in it. Revel in it. Run free in it.

What amazes you about grace? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.