October 29, 2015

A Fierce Flourishing: Part I, The Good News

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share a message with our local Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group.  When my friend, Sharon, invited me to speak, I quickly chose Galatians 5:13-25 about the fruit of the Spirit and wanted to share with the women about becoming "fruit-filled moms."  A few weeks ago I checked in on their webpage to learn a little more about the group before starting to prepare.  There I learned that the theme for the year is A Fierce Flourishing.  What a great image, right?  I loved how simply reading that phrase made me want to rise to the occasion of mothering my children, to fight for goodness in our home, and to see God make us thrive!

Because God is good and guides, the Galatians passage fit so well with their theme.  In this post I will give you the condensed version of what I shared with the ladies yesterday.  In short, we can only experience a fierce flourishing with God.  It begins by putting our faith in Christ - i.e. becoming a Christian - and continues by living life by the Spirit.  Never, at any moment, can we go it alone!

The ladies and I started our time together talking about how being a mom was different than we expected, in both positive and startling ways.  We enjoyed some laughs and agreed together about the joys and challenges.  Then we made up a little list of what a "good mom" is, acknowleding that none of us are living up to that standard that we're always trying to attain.  What I wanted to encourage the women with at this point was that God can transform us into that kind of mom: loving, attentive, patient, making wise choices for her children, etc.  We are all so painfully aware of our inadequacies, but God can enable us to experience a fierce flourishing as we walk with Him!  It starts with believing the good news.

So before I could get to reading or talking about life in the Spirit from Galatians 5, we had to talk Good News.  I laid out the story of how God created things to be, how sin entered the world, how Scripture tells us our biggest problem is spiritual, and how God, because He loves us, made the way back to right relationship with Him through the death and resurrection of Christ.  (I know you've heard me talk about this now and then here on the blog!)  Of course, for the Good News to make any difference in our lives, we have to respond to the message by faith: admitting we are a sinner in need of saving (repenting) and believing Jesus is the Savior and Lord.  After sharing that, I wanted to be clear with them what happens when we put our faith in Christ - several incredible things!
  1. Our sin is removed as far as the east is from the west.  Guilt and shame and forgiven, we can approach God freely with confidence, not fear.
  2. Christ gives us His righteousness.  God looks at us and sees His perfection.
  3. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. God empowers us to live for Him!
  4. We have the promise of eternal life with God.  All things will be made new.
That's so much more than a ticket out of hell, isn't it?  Such Good News!  Good News of new life!

As I had been preparing for the talk, reading through Galatians 5:13-25, it hit me that becoming a "good mom" is a spiritual issue.  We can try out cool ideas and establish good routines as mom, and those are helpful.  But they are secondary to our need for a change or heart, a transformation of character that only God can bring about inside us.

You'll have to wait till tomorrow for the rest of the message, however, because I think this blost has gotten long enough!  And I need to go get ready for the day.  Since I am stopping here, may I ask you a question?  Have you put your faith in Christ?  Have you been reconciled to God your Creator?  The Bible says:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”  Romans 10:9-11
Repent and believe the Good News!

October 27, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 42}

You might be wondering what the "Open for 2015" series is about if you are new to Life in the Valley.  (Welcome, by the way, I am glad you are here!)  The initial post in the series was at the beginning of the year; I had asked God to give me a theme word for the year and OPEN was the on that rose to the surface.  I have been blogging about it regularly, to give myself accountability and to invite you to think about being OPEN with me.  You can read the first post here.

Meditating on being OPEN has opened my eyes to how closed I can be, to God and to others, but it has also been incredible to see how often the theme has come up.  Even this week in his sermon, the visiting pastor said, "OPEN YOUR LIVES!"  And I was like,  Okay, okay, God.  I will keep listening, keep blogging, and endeavor to love and serve you openly!

Today I'm still catching up a little on some OPEN things that have stood out over the last month.  Late summer and fall derailed my bi-weekly blogging, but I am getting back on track.  In fact, November is really fun because I blog daily every November around a single theme.  More on that later, though.  For this blost (that's my condensed word for blog post) I'm going to talk about the importance of remembering.

Do you ever find yourself in a difficult situation or emotional space and all you can envision is a future of despair and turmoil?  If you don't, I want to hang out with you and let your optimism rub off on me!  If you do, then you're nodding your head.  Sometimes life can seem so impossible and hopeless.  We're in the middle of a change in our lives and loneliness, bitterness, and hopelessness quickly want to be our bffs.

I received an email from a friend a couple of weeks ago in which she sincerely poured her heart out about things going on in her life.  My heart was overjoyed that she took me seriously when I sent her a note asking how she was doing, rather than telling me things were "fine."  As I typed out a response to her, I felt compelled to encourage her to remember.  For if we are OPEN to remembering God, loneliness, bitterness, and hopelessness don't seem like such great companions anymore.

As I wrote to her, I was struck by how much I needed to practice what I was preaching.  I have had many moments of fear and despair as I have been preparing to share a message with our local MOPS group tomorrow and at the 'A Mom's Heart' conference in Illinois in a couple of weeks.  As I wrote to my friend the Spirit was speaking to me, Heather, will you, too, be open to remembering how I have provided speaking engagements in the past and been faithful to use them in your life and the lives of others.  Remember, daughter, I will not abandon you.  Remember my track record with you!

My friend was not the only one who needed to remember!

These are some of my favorite verses from the Psalms that always call me back to remembering, to "forget not all His benefits."

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 
As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children
Psalm 103:1-5 & 13-18 

Being OPEN to remembering provides us with protection and strength to persevere!  Reviewing all God has done for us in Christ will lift up our heads and send loneliness, bitterness, and hopelessness packing.  Further, remembering the many ways that God has specifically done more that we could have asked or imagined in our lives gives us strength to stand up and keep going in faith.

Time to Take Action:

Here's some of what I shared with my friend.  Use it today to help you to remember the Lord!  My prayer for her at the end is the same for you today.

For the time being can I encourage you to remember?  Remember how faithful, very specifically faithful, God has been to you with previous [changes] and other trials.  Remember His promises to never leave and forsake you.  Remember how loved you are beyond what you deserve and regardless of your ability to measure up to anyone's standards, especially your own.  Remember that you are in the middle of a huge transition and, thankfully, life is not ALL transition - none of us would make it!  And remember that you can cry out to the Lord at any moment of any day or night; remember that He hears.  May remembering strengthen your faith and your arms to press on in these difficult days.

Photo Credit 

October 22, 2015

Thanksgiving Follows Halloween, Thank God! (And Giveaway Winner Announced)

Many homes have decorations out this time of year.  Fake spider webs, orange pumpkin-shaped lights, ghosts, and witches adorn the front porches and windows of many homes.  Other stoops boast harvest scenes: tastefully arranged hay bales, pumpkins, corn stalks, and scarecrows.  Driving around town, one minute I am enjoying the lovely harvest-themed adornment of one house, only to be taken aback two doors down by a gory scene on a front lawn or a creepy face staring at me through a blood-decorated window.

Perhaps you can guess which decorations I like better?  <wink>

All kidding aside, as I was running the streets a few mornings ago, I got to thinking about how beautiful it is that Thanksgiving follows Halloween.  While I love the kiddie, neighbor-meeting fun of the latter, I am forced to acknowledge the dark side of the day.  I mean, the costume shops alone make sure their windows and front displays are anything but welcoming!  Death, darkness, and gore are celebrated or at least embraced "all in good fun".  But the truth is, none of those things are fun, or funny.  Evil is a reality - a spiritual reality - that wants to consume us and keep us from the good God has for us.  (See my last post.)

Enter: Thanksgiving.  What better celebration to follow the chaos, darkness, and death of October 31!  I am reminded of the Gospel:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air ... But, because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions - it is by grace  you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:1-2 & 4-5

Halloween is not the end of the story!  All this world has to offer us is Halloween, with its death and darkness.  But God, who is rich in mercy, is not content to leave us there.  He gives life to the dead, shining His light into the darkness.  Those where are dead in their transgressions can enter the abundance of the Lord.  Happy Thanksgiving, indeed!

I am grateful for the juxtaposition of these two annual celebrations and the object lesson they provide.  The word that rang in my head on that run, and has been since, is abundance.  Halloween is emptiness and depravity.  Thanksgiving is feasting and abundance.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  ~Jesus, (John 10:10)
Let's celebrate!

*     *     *     *

Maybe you lovely ladies that entered the giveaway would now finally like to know who won!  Well, here you are:

I'll be in touch about getting your new book to you!

October 20, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 40}

Over the last couple of months my weekly blogging has slowed, so I'm working on some fast-forwarding catch up by sharing with you a few things that have stood out in September and October!  I long to share these with you, because I know they will encourage your hearts as much as they have mine.

Last week I wrote about my need (our need) to be OPEN to transformation, a work that only God can do in our hearts, and only in His timing.  Today I want to share with you about how I was feeling in early October and how God challenged me to be OPEN to trusting Him for protection and provision.

Whenever I have deadlines coming up, but I have not had time to prepare for them, I start to get anxious.  My mind rushes to fear and to the disaster that is surely going to result in the future.  (You know, because I know how to predict the future!)  Well, the arrival of October brought the shocking reminder that I had two speaking engagements coming up in a handful of weeks and - other than a few feeling thoughts - I had done nothing to prepare.  Commence internal freak out!

For a few days I was waking up thinking about all the stuff I had to do and how there did not seem to be any way that I could find or make time to prepare for these two commitments.  I was praying about it, sharing with God how I was feeling.  But I always returned my focus to the impossibility of it all.  (I'm a real optimist!)

The morning of October 4th, I sat down for my morning quiet time and God got through to me.  Of course I knew that some of my nervousness came from pride; I don't want to make a fool of myself in front of two groups of people!  That unbelief needed to be confessed.  But the Lord reminded me of an additional problem I had.  It is a problem all Christians have.  When we belong to God, not only do we enjoy fellowship with Him, we also take on His enemy.  And the evil one would love nothing more than for God's people to get stuck in fear, unbelief, self-love, etc.

God called to mind the line from the Lord's prayer:

We have an enemy, but His power is pitiful when placed alongside the omnipotence of Almighty God!  I could pray boldly for protection from his lies and attacks, fully confident in the Lord's ability and willingness to hear my cry and come to my aid.

The Lord went on to remind me that He called me to each of these "gigs."  And though He never promises that what He calls us to will be easy, He does promise to be with us, give us wisdom, guidance, hope, and joy.  God opens the doors and we can trust Him to see us through to the other side.

The beginning of this month was fraught with inner turmoil.  To find peace, I needed to be OPEN to trusting God with all of it.  That meant repenting of my sin, but it also meant turning to God for protection and provision that only He can provide for me, and for you.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  I Thessalonians 5:23-24

Time to Take Action:
Do you find yourself all tied up in knots today?  Does life seem like it's just a little too much?  This sisa common experience for many of us, even in the midst of things we know God has called us to but the initial excitement has faded.  How quickly we forget that the Lord is poised to come to our aid.  Maybe you have some sin to confess.  So do that!  But also, take some time to say to the Lord, 

I need your protection and provision.  Of course life is too much for me!  I have an enemy who wants me to stop trusting You and I am a finite human.  Deliver me from the evil one today.  Remind me that at all times I can declare I AM A CHILD OF THE KING!  Fill my heart with hope in YOUR ability to provide for me and help me to trust you through each moment of the day, especially the ones that seem impossible from my perspective.  You are faithful, Lord.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you!  In Jesus' name, Amen.

October 16, 2015

Coming Up: Speaking at a Conference & a Giveaway!

Friends!  I have exciting news to share with you.  I will be joining a group of speakers at a conference for moms in Illinois on November 7!  Just outside St. Louis, MO in Collinsville, IL, you can join us for a day of fellowship, good teaching, heart-filling encouragement, and tasty food, all with other moms who are longing to be refreshed and revitalized as much as you are. 

All of the speakers have attended intensives with Sally Clarkson and have personally benefited from her counsel, wisdom, teaching, and friendship over many years.  But more than that, these women walk with the Lord and have story after story of how HE has transformed them through motherhood and used motherhood to grow their faith.  I am so excited to hear what each one has to share; these women are my sisters, people who I admire and from whom I have learned so much in just one or two weekends of my life.

Topics to be covered
  • Spiritual Mothering
  • Encouraging One Another
  • How do I fill my cup?
  • Equipping Moms to Disciple Their Children
  • Mom's With Swords: In Defense of the Value and Beauty of Motherhood
  • How can I be a Mentor to others, when I don't feel equipped?

I have the privilege of sharing about how we can encourage one another, a topic that is dear to my heart.  We can all use encouragement, at any moment of any day, right?!  I look forward to challenging women to embrace their ability to become an encourager, in response to what God has done in their lives.  Our focus text will be Hebrews 10:19-25.

In my post on Wednesday, I shared the difference Sally Clarkson's book, Mission of Motherhood, has made in my life and how it is helping me to pursue this calling in faith, rather than continuing on an endless search for "the right formula."  That is not her only book that God has used in my life, not to mention getting to attend the intensives!  This day-conference is supposed to be like attending one of those intensives; it is a day to be poured into and equipped, so you are ready to give and keep on giving to your family and other moms.

Please consider registering (that means pray about it, ladies!) for the conference here and bringing a friend along!  Or if you are not able, please share this with any mom friends you may have in the St. Louis area and Illinois.  Thanks!

Hey, It's a Giveaway!!

In the spirit of the excitement building around this event and what I shared in my post on Wednesday, I would like to give away Sally's book, Mission of Motherhood!  One of the women in our group this fall said, "Thanks for picking such an encouraging book.  I kind of want to give every mom a copy."  I could not agree more.  So even if you already have a copy, maybe you could win this one for a friend.

Here's how to get your name in the running!  You get one entry for each of these things, so let me know in a comment how many times to throw your name in the hat.
Look at that!  You could have your name in the running up to four times.  Don't forget to mention in your comment how many times I should put in your name.  I can't wait to see who wins!

***Winner will be announce Thursday, October, 22.  Entries due by midnight EST, October 21!***

October 14, 2015

Open for 2015 {Week 36}

Every Tuesday evening around seven women start arriving in our home.  They grab a cup of tea or water from the dining room and then make themselves comfortable in the living room.  Out of their bags they pull their Bibles, notebooks, pens, and their copy of Sally Clarkson's Mission of Motherood, this fall's discussion book.

It has been several years since my first read through the book.  I remember how it changed my life as a mom.  Sally's biblical encouragement opened my eyes to mothering by following Jesus' example, looking at the way he taught, guided, admonished, and did life with his disciples.  At the time, all I knew was that I wanted to get my preschooler to obey me, but she didn't always want to!  Then I would get mad, my default when I'm not getting my way.  It was a sorry cycle.  Mission of Motherhood gave me new ideas and new hope.

Reading through the book again this fall - with a couple more children added to the mix and all older than Elizabeth was when I first read it - I am disappointed I have read it over and over throughout the last several years!  The principles of mothering by faith, not formula, are timeless.  The work has gotten both more fun - because older kids are lots of fun - but also more challenging, as there are more decisions to be made, more focused character training is necessary, and their questions are getting tougher!

Honestly, I am not up to the task.  I am well aware of my own flaws, (I still default to anger when I am not getting my way), and of my flimsy strength to keep on in the good fight of the faith.  Rereading Sally's book as my oldest is on the cusp of puberty and my youngest is busy being three has given new wind to limp my sails.  There's hope!  We're all gonna make it because God is faithful and because He can transform me, and my kids.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

This blog post is way behind, but being OPEN to transformation was the theme that was emerging mid-September.  Doesn't is sometimes seem like giving up or being mediocre is really the best option?  The phrase "I just can't adult today" has become a funny refrain in our lives and on our Facebook feeds.  I find it hilarious!  But I think it is indicative of how hopeless and ill-equipped we often feel to handle what is before us.  God promises over and over in His Word that He can transform us, from the inside out!  And that He will give us hope for each day.

So, to the weary mother who feels like she's failing, God says, I gave you these little ones, because you are the mother I had in mind for them.  Trust me; love them; don't fear; keep giving; I love you!  I will not abandon you and I will provide for all your needs, from forgiveness of your sins to food on the table.  I can change your life and your family's life!  Press on in faith.

When I first read Mission of Motherhood, I watched God do amazing things in our family as He gently pointed out areas in my life in need of change.  I began to enjoy my relationship with Elizabeth, rather than thinking of her as a job, a drain on my time, or a project.  I had the privilege of being her mom!

I wonder what God will do this time around,
if I OPEN up my heart to the transformation He has for me?

Time to Take Action:
I tell you these things to lift up your hearts and encourage you.  Dear one, you might feel stuck, but you are not!  The change you are looking for, however, will not come with a better plan or more self-discipline.  You need to be transformed by the Living God.  Thankfully, that's His business!  First, He cleanses us of all our sin through faith in Christ, then spends the rest of our lives molding us into His likeness by the power of His Spirit in us!  This is not just for moms, but for all people who would believe.

Will you take Him at His word and let Him transform you?

Here are some verses for reflection:
Ezekiel 36:24-28For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

Romans 12:1-2Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

2 Corinthians 3:16-18But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

photo credit

October 4, 2015

Sunday, the Time to Draw Near

Dear ones, it is Sunday.  Time to reconnect with God and His people in worship and rest!

But you feel so weary and unworthy, don't you?  You spent the week trying to keep up in the rat race, but fell further behind with every step forward.  The lists of demands on your counter and in your mind grew, even as you thought you were making progress.  And in the midst, you made choices you are not proud to admit.  I get it.  I spent the week feeling this, too.

How the world would beat us down and take our life!

But, again I remind you, dear ones: it is Sunday.  Time to stop and be restored in response to our God's command, which is a blessing.  Rest from your work, one day in seven.  Trust Me.

How the Lord would lift us up and give us life!

When I get wrapped up in the cares of the world, my own sin, or the attacks of the evil one, the Word always brings me back.  So on this Sunday morning, I pass along to you these Words from the Lord.  Read, meditate, worship; and be comforted, refreshed, reminded, and restored.  You are His!

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Matthew 6:9-13

This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.