New Year, New Word: Beautiful

About this time of the year I find myself in a rut.

I take down my Christmas tree. All the sparkly presents are unwrapped and put away. I sweep up the living room and sit down, mourning the loss of the twinkling lights.

It’s cold. It’s windy. And everything seems kind of boring if I’m honest.

Every year I know these grey days are going to come, so I choose a word for the coming year, giving the days an extra dose of creativity and focus. I ask myself sometime mid-summer, “What am I going to work on? What do I want to be different in my life? What could be improved? Where would I like to be more intentional, gain some clarity?”

Past year’s words have included:

Warm

Brave

Hope

Fearlessly wrong

Sometimes I cheat with two words. I don’t like rules. 😉

This year, nothing came to me, so I just let it set. And set. And set.

Still nothing.

How in the world was I going to get through the January rut when I already lacked inspiration in late summer?

Then, we got on a plane and headed to Spain.

One day, we drove up a mountain in fog so thick that I thought for sure we would be run off the road by a tiny little European coupe that wanted to come down the mountain using the same lane.

We saw some stuff, headed down the mountain, watched some Star Trek, and went to bed.

The next day, the fog lifted, and we made the decision to head back up the mountain. When we reached the top, we got out of the car and my jaw dropped.

It was beautiful.

Mountains all around us, trees, dew, sunshine – all in the same place we had missed it the night before, veiled from our eyes.

I realized that this is what I wanted to focus on: Beauty.

I wrote a book about it, so you would think the journey would be over. But that day on the mountain, I understood that this was just the beginning.

I wanted to see beautiful like this in my every day. I wanted to stop and enjoy it. To breath it in, rather than pass it by.

Laughing on the top of a mountain with our friends about fog adventures, guardrails, and the cross-cultural similarities in school field trips, I remembered things I think I had forgotten just a little bit:

Life is Beautiful.

Conversation is Beautiful.

This world is Beautiful.

I want to see those truths every day – not just in my rejoicing, but in my rut as well.

I want to see it through the violence, through the mess, through lonely, and through the mundane.

This year, my word for the year is beautiful.

I want to focus intentionally on all that God has made and done and saved and just how beautiful that is:

I am beautiful.
This world, with all its heartbreak and pain…is beautiful.
Relationship, in its complications and mess…is beautiful.
This day, rain, sun, or shadow…is beautiful.

Join me on this journey of seeing beautiful, fixing our perspective together on the One who truly makes everything, everything beautiful in His time. Where do you think we often miss beauty in this life? Tell us about them:

Name one, two, three, or more things that strike you as beautiful today and share them in the comments.

Download this Beautiful Reminders page.

List three things every day that are beautiful around you. These can be things of physical beauty, or ideas, people, experiences, anything.

Study with me! Journey through Altogether Beautiful with me. Preorder from Concordia Publishing House , Amazon  or wherever you like to get your books. There are samples at the Concordia link and look for free stuff details to come.

I can just feel it…

this year is going to be beautiful.

You can’t do everything

I found some wisdom recently…

You can’t do everything.

This seems to be a recurring theme in my life actually.

I wrote this post a couple years ago when my husband told me I didn’t need to use all my gifts at once. Ha!

You see, there are so many good ideas and worthwhile ventures in this short life. Couple that with the urgency of the Gospel, and you can easily end up with a ball of busyness.

I’m learning with time that I can’t, in fact, do everything.

The Mary and Martha story of Luke 10 has always felt like a thorn in the flesh to me. Yes, Dearest Lord Jesus, I know I need to rest in You, but I really, really like to try and do it all. 😉

My attitude about it changed with these words from a wise speaker at a long ago women’s retreat…

“Mary gave up something good…for something better.”

It’s not that serving and creating and doing aren’t good, it’s that they aren’t better. I need to lay some things down so that I can put my whole heart into Christ, and to what He has given me to do, and do it well.

Maybe that’s a twisting of the story a little bit, because the focus of the passage in Luke 10:38-42 is really on resting in the Lord, but I think it applies more broadly. Anytime I chase trying to do more than I know I’m intended, when resting ceases, and anxiety presses in, when I ignore that still small voice, I’m missing something the Lord is trying to offer me – His comfort, His peace, His control for this day.

So in order to concentrate on the Better, I’m going to give up the good. As of December 22nd, I Love My Shepherd Products with a Message will close, so that I can focus on writing, at least for a time.

It will allow me to continue producing more I Love My Shepherd print studies, like

He Calls Me Loved: A Study of Isaiah (coming June 2018)

Good Gifts: A Study of James (coming 2019)

Chasing Freedom: A Study of Galatians (release date TBD)

I am also working on streamable and downloadable video and audio segments for all the studies, as well as downloadable retreat formats for each study.

Plus…podcasts, articles, and resources about ministry life, mental health, family life, and all the good stuff you would expect from I Love My Shepherd…only Better. 😉

What is good in your life? Take a minute to thank God for all the good things He is doing through you and around you? Share them with me in the comments. I would love to hear what He is doing in and through you!

 

Are there any of those good things that can go? Those things that are good, but aren’t Better? Any one thing even that could leave more time for resting in the Word, for spending more time in genuine relationships, or for putting energy into doing something God has called you to with your whole heart?

Thank you for all your support, readers! You give me more encouragement than you can imagine.

Setting aside the good, for the Better.

*If you’d like to see any of the Products with a Message available through Dec. 22nd you can check out the products here – Products with a Message

Photo and designs by Melissa Sue Photo and Design

Freedom from expectations: Running to be free

I have tried to do it all.

I have tried to do it perfectly.

I have tried to wow the world, or at least just my husband.

And every time I come up short.

Expectations are probably the number one struggle in this life for most of us – our own expectations, expectations placed on us from others, floating cultural expectations, made-up expectations. You name it, someone or something expects it.

The difficult reality is that without belief we will not be able to manage all the expectation. This is Biblical fact. Goodness, it’s hard enough to manage expectation even with the hope of Christ.

Paul lays out this reality for the Galatians in Galatians 3:10-14:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

It is so easy to run from belief in order to be free.

Belief to unbelievers often feels too much like expectation – following rules, making commitments, organized nonsense.

There is expectation in life. Yes, it’s a thing. Without belief, these expectations are my doom. The Greek word for curse in Galatians 3:10 is kataran or a curse, doomed one, due to condemnation.

The curse Paul talks about in Galatians says, yes, I will never measure up to any expectation, not a single one.

Galatians 3:11 says:

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…

The irony is that in facing the expectations head on, in looking the law in the eye, living in belief of God, instead of closing our eyes to all the expectation and running away to hide in unbelief, if we just open our eyes, we would see the beautiful Truth of redemption:

In Christ, the law looks a lot less like expectation and a lot more like crucifixion.

Christ Jesus came into the world so that we no longer live under this curse. Those expectations? Every single one – whether they are appropriate, inappropriate, or somewhere wonky in the middle – is intended by God to remind us of freedom.

When someone puts an expectation on me, when I see, hear, or feel an expectation rising up within my soul, now, because the curse has been lifted in Christ’s crucifixion, I respond with freedom.

Freedom to live in Christ, to love in Christ, to carry out my vocations and roles honoring others, serving in His name.

Every single expectation is in my freedom.

Cooking dinner for the seventieth night in a row – freedom in Christ! I do it because I like food, and I love my family, not because I have to.

Talking nicely to someone I don’t like – freedom in Christ! My eternity is secured whether I talk nice or not, but life is better when I do.

Giving time or money – Freedom in Christ! I could keep it all, spend it all, or Ebenezer it all, but something in my heart just won’t, because God gave me people and people matter more.

It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. Freedom doesn’t look perfect, but it doesn’t cease being freedom. I have it, whether I use it or not, feel it or not.

Today I am praying for that Spirit of Faith and Freedom in you.

…so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Let the Holy Spirit well up. Write it on your wrist, your hand, or wherever you can see it as a reminder. Every time you feel the weight of expectation, of “not enough,” say it out loud:

Freedom in Christ!

And then go about your business. Do what needs to be done in your home, your family, at school, at work, at church, in life, but knowing that curses are for unbelief, expectations are the law- pointing us straight to our freedom in Christ.

He lives! And so I do to. I live in belief, and truth in love, because that’s Him in me, that’s real freedom.

Spirit, speak freedom into our lives. May expectation only point us to Him, every time, to live free and full, and abundantly, eyes wide open, in love, in care, in giving…

Freedom in Christ!

 

Discussion questions:

What expectations get to you – at home, at work, in friendship and relationships, at church, as a citizen, anywhere?

How does freedom through Christ Jesus change expectations for the believer?

How can we help one another live in freedom in our vocations and roles, while being faithful to the Word of Truth?