Category Archives: Freedom

Confessions of 2016

James 5:16 says “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

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Did you ever read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Mix that with Pharell William’s song determined to be “Happy,” and the saving grace of the mix… “Say Amen” by Finding Favour  — and you’ll have a picture of my 2016.

My Confession: 2016 has been a wonderful, no good, frustrating, joyful, fabulous, overwhelming, love-filled, exhausting, fractious, and exhilarating year. I have cycled from fully and joyfully alive —  to exhausted resignation with mild depression — and back again. Sometimes with both all mixed together in a pot I called menopause (but the doctor said it wasn’t that).

Many times, I have called out to God both in thanksgiving and despair. Shamefully, at other times I have all but ignored Him, as I became swallowed up in temporal circumstances. The urgent and pressing.

Since we rang in 2016 from our tranquil porch at Alligator Point, I have participated in (personally or through close friends and family) many BIG, significant events.  They have included several broken bones;  numerous ER and hospital visits; countless joy-filled weddings (two of my own children); divorces; one office remodel, move then destructive fire; repeated vandalism and deception; a crazy election year; two new puppies; a hurricane targeting both houses; starting my new business; unemployment/ new employment; back to school; high risk births, serious parental illness; and family funerals — just to name a few.

In living and praying through the highs and lows, the scheduled and unscheduled events of 2016, I seemed to have put a lot of life on hold — on the back burner for a more convenient time, even though some I feel are at God’s leading.

  • despite aspirations to go to a writer’s conference and start a book, I have written only five blog posts
  • I sort of launched, then postponed starting my coaching business — until 2017 when the craziness would slow down
  • after doing so well the 2nd half of 2015, I let stress win the health battle in January 2016, and put off weight loss and cardio health until 2017
  • my “quiet time” became dismally distracted — reduced to at best “prayer without ceasing,” but without disciplined and real focused time alone with God
  • I set up my studio to paint more frequently, but rarely felt the creative spirit
  • I imagined but didn’t begin numerous projects… my to do list grew and alas is misplaced
  • my values and mission statement documents were literally lost in the chaos before any efforts  were made (and before I committed them to memory)

I’m sure I could continue listing circumstances and distractions — excuses and understandable delays and failures in reaching goals.  Possibly you can relate? We all have years that are just “one for the record books.”

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But where is the nugget of truth I need to carry forward to 2017? The circumstances — even natural disasters, family weddings or deaths — are not the core issues.

IMG_2988In a few days we will sit in the same beach rocking chairs, looking ahead to 2017. Again, I have no idea what’s in store. 2016 was truly a wendinger of a year… but maybe this is the new normal of mid-life empty nesters with aging parents and many adult children??? Despite all that’s unknown and out of my control, how can each day of 2017 be better? What can I learn? How can I grow? How can I please God?

I think the answer lies in #4 bullet on my unedited list processing the back burner spokes in my wheel of life. “My ‘quiet time’ became dismally distracted — reduced to at best “prayer without ceasing,” but without disciplined and real focused time alone with God.”

Heart of my confession: Lord, I have let other things — worthy, good and “bad”– steal my attention from You. Forgive my idolatry — which has lead to destruction. (Phil 3:19) All those other bullet points above are simply evidences of the consequential destruction when I forget my first love. img_3233

It’s so exciting and amazing that God forgives and offers His grace and mercy fresh each day! Not because I have “changed” or “been good,” but because of  Jesus! He is my atonement! Still —  true confession involves the overflowing response of repentance! Turning 180 degrees away from sin — back to God.

God not only wants but demands total devotion from His people. Complete allegiance. It is foolish to ultimately trust in myself or anything else in this life. Anyone or anything I love (or give my attention to) ahead of God puts me in danger, and should be considered an idol.

Matthew 10:37-35 says  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

That stings. Especially for 2016.

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Those are not words the modern culture encourages us to embrace. Today’s world often calls us to worship family, achievement, recognition. Or to put it in words that sound more palatable to me and allow me to sin without feeling immediate guilt… I am encouraged and feel really good about myself when I’m seen as competent, self-reliant, poised, responsible — the one who can be counted on to “be there” for my friends and family.  When I’m the near “perfect” wife, mother, daughter, friend. Giving and serving — at home, at church and in my community.

Actually all those can be good things — but never when they come at the expense of my devotion to God. That’s what I let happen in much of 2016. It’s not that I forgot God or that He is always with me. It’s not that I stopped praying altogether or even that I quit trusting Him. I just didn’t make a lot of one-on-one time for being with Him.

I was overwhelmed by immediate needs and events, and God got squeezed out of His rightful spot in my life.  Nothing and no one deserves primacy in my life except God — Creator of every good thing. He needs to be my steering wheel — not just my fuel.

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I’m looking at my Christmas village — where I love creating a Hallmark-worthy little town. The North Pole has all sorts of colorful and fun factories producing bikes, gumdrops and other great things. My heart, left unchecked, is a similar factory — producing all sorts of enticing idols. Temporal things (meant to be good if kept in their secondary place of affection) that become idols of my flesh if I put them before God in any way.

I have loved other things more than God. I have given my first fruits of attention to good and worthy things before giving God my undivided, focused devotion.  At times to His exclusion.IMG_3000

2017 new year’s resolutions are days away. There is time to make plans to meet my goals. But my repentance can’t wait!

Starting THIS MOMENT God is my unrivaled #1 love again. My Sufficiency. My All in ALL… the One I will turn to for answers and guidance. The One I trust above all else…

And when I feel myself slipping (as I will do as long as I’m on earth), I pray I will catch myself earlier and more quickly. When the time I truly want to give to God is feeling rushed or second tier — I will see a problem. This is not an isolated occasion that calls for a reorganization of priorities… it’s idolatry. I’ll ask His forgiveness again, and return to Him as my first love, as often as necessary —  until He brings me home.IMG_2755

My prayer is that today and everyday God’s love for me overwhelms the circumstances of my life. That I allow my moments to be defined by The Good Book and the reality of God’s Truth in my life with Him. My favorite great hymns are a good playlist to live by!

  • “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
  • “Amazing Grace”
  • “It is Well”
  • “How Great Thou Art”
  • “My Life is In You, Lord”
  • “Blessed Assurance”

Your comments are so encouraging —  either in the comments section or through social media below. Thank you for “hearing” my confession, and for your prayers.  

 

 

 

 

How to Rid yourself of Smoldering Discontent

IMG_3428We’re not so different from the wandering Hebrew people who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt — just after God miraculously rescued them. Familiarity feels safe and comfortable. Even more so when we enjoyed our yesterdays. We long to go back instead of trusting God today and into our future. We often let a smoldering discontent permeate our being.

Webster’s offers the following definitions

  • SMOLDERING: feeling a strong emotion but keeping it hidden
  • DISCONTENT: not pleased or satisfied 

I’m a midlife, empty nest mom… some might add in a midlIfe crisis? These middle years showcase a well-discussed season of change and transition. I’m writing from my current perspective, but my post could apply equally well to many others:  from someone just graduating college, to someone in their so-called “golden years,” or anyone facing change and transition.

Rob and I moved to a new town … when I was turning 48… after my nest emptied a 2nd time…  to start a new business… as we gutted our house.  I worked full time with him and tried to juggle relationships and the changing dynamics in our family sandwich (us in the middle of aging parents and launching “children”).

Let’s just say I was too crazy busy and distracted to know which way was up. God had blessed me with a marriage beyond my dreams, and that was enough for a while.

IMG_1556 After a few years, my recovery from unexpected surgery stopped me in my tracks. That’s when I started realizing our life wasn’t quite what I wanted. Little felt comfortable or familiar to me, so I assumed our life needed my attention to “fix” things. Get us back to what we had always dreamed life would be. That’s when discontent slithered in… and began smoldering.

I started worrying and scheming.  Why hadn’t we found the “right” church. We needed to develop friendships. Were we good parents … good children? Were we engaged enough in the community? Should we travel more? Serve better? Play tennis again? Why was it so hard to have quality time with God like I used to? Or exercise? Or read my book club books? Everything had previously fit into my life neatly like a puzzle. 5000 tiny pieces… it was chaotic and zany at times, but it all worked together. I was living the American dream – raising a family.  Now, I didn’t really have a relevant dream. Maybe if I just better organized the remaining pieces…

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Though I tried to ignore it, discontentment flavored even the best parts of my life.  I might be around another 30-50 years. Is life really about trying to reclaim a few shining moments of my past dreams? Or do I want to open my heart, mind and resources to the abundant life God promises me TODAY. And every day that I will surrender to Him in gratitude and trust.

IMG_1764The AHA moment came. So gently it had to be a divine message.  “Louise, I am doing something new.”

At first I said, “Great! I’ll get everything ready for you, God! I know the framework for a good life!”

I redoubled efforts to reclaim or recreate everything good from before and find ways to make it fit into our life today. Ever heard of the round hole and the square peg?

Again gently, but with clarity God said, “Stop. Stop your doing.”

Me: “Even the good and worthy stuff? That which you directed?”

God: “Stop doing life as you know it, in order to make room for Me and My plan.”

IMG_1507(This “conversation” isn’t real. It’s my attempt to communicate several years of devotions, Bible study, prayer and my responses as God led me. Transitions are often slow and comprised of many small, courageous moments of obedience.)

Me: “Ok. I’ll stop — well except for a couple things. Obligations that would be embarrassing to back out of early.”

Life felt selfish. Slow. Not very exciting, but I appreciated the rest. Then new circumstances kicked in, and I dropped out of even the last couple “old ways of doing things” — that’s when God spoke discipline and wisdom to me very personally.

God: “Let go of your determination to serve and to live your way, and follow me.”

Why did I think I knew what my life was “supposed” to look like? I memorized Proverbs 3:5-6 as a child, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

IMG_1772While rapidly moving forward, as life tends to do, I was constantly looking backwards for answers. Wanting to be where I once was or grasp what I thought I had missed out on. In the process, I was missing much of God’s best in the present. I was also putting myself at risk; I think Satan loves our stubborn discontentment. My way left little room for God to show me the new and abundant life He has for me NOW. The NEW plan for THIS TIME that He’s been working toward all along!

Imagine driving a car while steadily gazing in your rearview and side mirrors! It’s dangerous (I know from taking these pictures). Mirrors are only to glance back, to see if there is information that might help you as you move forward, giving utmost attention to the road ahead.

IMG_1781I realized I needed to confess my grip on the gifts from my yesterdays of active motherhood and a full house. Turn to Him and be grateful. Learn lessons. Cherish memories. Trust God, and let Him do a new thing in the spaces left by what is seasonally in my past. Live fully engaged in the present — where God is with me.

I believe an omnipotent God has been allowing and orchestrating all the events of my life to this day. He has an ongoing plan for me, and I only need to seek Him in order to discover what He has already prepared. He will give me all the resources I need to live abundantly for as long as He gives me breath. And then He will welcome me to heaven! He’ll do this for you too, if you’ll let Him.

Phillipians 4:19 promises us, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

IMG_3600God wants to heal the smoldering discontent — sin — in our lives, and transition us toward His gift of peace that passes understanding. To redefine and refocus our efforts to serve Him. To give us a new dream, uniquely suited to where He holds us today.

No matter how hopeless, lonely, scared, sick, tired, overwhelmed, depressed, obsolete, unworthy, broken, anxious, unsure or _____ (fill in with your own word) you may feel, God is with you.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 143:18)

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2)

IMG_0155He has a plan that He wants you to joyfully join in with Him. God’s richest blessings to you, wherever life finds you. His promises are true for all seasons of life.

Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”

Jeremiah 29:11 says trust Him always — and rejoice: “For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the LORD. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.”

And finally, one I take great hope in — Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

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How I Know that YOU are an ARTIST!

IMG_1305A blank slate can be a scary thing.

It holds infinite possibilities and promise — as well as risk and responsibility. Who wants to commit to a pristine canvas, when you might “mess up?” Who wants to expose her heart for others to interpret? Often insecurity intimidates a would be painter from putting brush to paper.

It’s true in life too. Sometimes we avoid the art of living the abundant life (John 10:10). We prefer to admire or critique the works of others from a distance. We don’t risk engaging with others outside our comfort zones. It’s too messy, so we isolate ourselves in our safe circles of influence.

IMG_1270In my experience, the artist eventually breaks out, and I never regret it. My God-given desire to create and impact the world can’t be quenched.

Art can take a myriad of forms.  Conversation. Relationships. Visual arts. Performing arts. Cooking. Sewing. Writing. Software, interior or fashion design. Event planning. Mechanics and engineers. Crafting a business deal, a speech, lecture or a sermon. Gardening and flower arranging. Managing people… all these and more are forms of artistry.

According to the dictionary, to “create” means to bring something into existence or to cause something to happen as a result of one’s actions. Fairly all-encompassing — so I believe an artist is within ALL of us. Don’t trust me… you are an artist because God says so.

IMG_1285Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created…” He is an Artist. It goes on a few verses later “So God created human beings in his own image.” We are His unique creations, made to create. We all have some form of creative, expressive, influential DNA, derived straight from the Creator of the Universe. We need to find where God is calling us to “create.” Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” To glorify Him and edify others.

While each new day is often compared to a blank canvas, I see it a little differently. A canvas, yes, but not a stark white one. Our God never slumbers, so each new day, there’s a picture in progress on the canvas, a story unfolding. We only need to look for Jesus’ hand and join in where He’s already at work. John 5:19 says “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

IMG_1289When I was little I felt tremendous joy in a fresh box of crayons. I still remember the smell and those neat little points! I’ve loved writing and painting all my life. They have always drawn me in and offered me great expression. Rest and peace. But there have been many years where I haven’t painted at all.

After 7th grade, I dropped art class for more rigorous academics. Places I believed could lead me to success and reward. I decided painting was frivolous child’s play. My juvenile assessment persisted into adulthood. Art was for personal enjoyment.  Leisure after the important things were done, or not at all. My painting served no real purpose, unless I could be really amazing — a profitable artist or master of my trade.

IMG_1288God is changing my point of view. Today I not only value creative expression, but believe no one is living completely as God desires them to unless they value their creative niche, and risk sharing their God appointed art form with others.

God is using painting in my life in important ways.

Recently, we removed a rarely used pool table and turned our pool room into a TV room.  With all those windows, there was too much glare by day and a fish bowl effect by night. And really — who needs multiple sitting rooms? With no more practical uses, I timidly suggested maybe I might paint more if I had a space I could keep “messy.” A studio? And all that natural light made the pool room perfect.

IMG_1122We transformed it, and like many a white canvas, it remained untouched. The shelves were loaded with brushes, art books, canvases and paint… but the artist was not present.

Consumed by what felt urgent, critical, and mine to accomplish, my life’s pace just wasn’t compatible with creativity. Despite helping, going and doing, I felt guilty and inept. I tried hard, but it was never enough — and I was instead being controlled and consumed by my trials… by life on this earth.

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my office

IMG_2832Then one day on a whim (and a prayer), I painted something. And right alongside my easel, the Potter began molding His clay, pliable and surrendered in His hands.

He is giving me new Life! A new purpose. After asking me to stop all my busyness and just be, He is beckoning me to His new plan. To work He has uniquely molded me to do (more later on that).

You are an ARTIST! I hope you have discovered a form of artistry that draws you completely into the present moment, as it temporarily drains away worldly concerns and distractions. A place to be vulnerable, authentic and raw.  Where you can lose yourself.

God led me back to painting… to teach me about His nature, expose a little more of my flesh, and to transform me for His glory. Artistry is good for that. It helps us embrace and engage fully — letting go of what’s broken and left undone.

IMG_1284Sharing my art requires me to be vulnerable. Trusting God in all the details as I rest, slow down, fill my cup and make time for Him. This “frivolous” creating has allowed God the space to teach me a little more about His desires for me and where He truly wants me to join Him in His work.

Like Eric Lidell said in “Chariot’s of Fire, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  God gave me a love of painting… and when I paint, I feel His presence and His pleasure. It has less to do with what I produce on the canvas than the freedom and the abundant life He offers, as I become more fully “me.”

Matthew 11:29-30 sheds some light: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (emphasis mine).

IMG_1228Are you drowning in pressure? Do you believe you’re made in the image of God and as such, an artist? Could acknowledging whatever art form God has place in your heart help you gain His Holy perspective?

I hope you have something that provides in-the-moment creative joy in your life. If not, ask God to reveal His gift to you. Then look for where He is already at work, and calling you to join in His creation. Pick up your “paintbrush,” choose your favorite color and go to work with Him on the canvas He has waiting for your contribution.

IMG_1262“To me, the purpose of the arts is to introduce people to life in all its breadth and complexity and thereby to find oneself, others, the world and God more fully.” Gary Collins

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